We’ve asked chefs from the restaurants nominated for Canada’s Best New Restaurants to dish about the nation’s food scene.

Interview by Amie Watson

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Véronique Rivest

Owner and sommelier at Soif | Gatineau
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What is the Canadian restaurant trend of the year?

You know what? I don’t like trends. Trends come and go. Gracious hospitality is what successful people in the business are all about. Anybody can serve you some food, put out some wine, have the greatest concept, but if it weren’t for the customers, we would be nothing. We should never become too trendy for our customers.

Other than your restaurant, where would you bring visitors to eat in the Ottawa region?

I always take visitors to Les Fougères, a fine-dining restaurant in Chelsea, Quebec, that serves great Canadian cuisine. It’s just 15 minutes from Parliament Hill, but when you’re sitting on the terrace you feel miles from civilization.

Air Canada enRoute just released its list of the finalists for Canada’s Best New Restaurants. If you could eat at one of them this weekend, which would you choose?

I’d probably pick Adelaide Oyster House for a couple of reasons: to get out to St. John’s and to enjoy Steve Vardy’s cooking. I got to know him when he was working in Ottawa. I’d eat anything that he does.

Any advice for an aspiring sommelier?

Be humble – if you’re raving about a wine to your guests and their look is kind of dazed and confused, stop talking with yourself and make sure you’re talking to them.

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Jakob Lutes

Chef at Port City Royal | Saint John
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What is the Canadian restaurant trend of the year?

I’m seeing a lot of restaurants attempting to define their regional cuisines, like the Merchant Tavern in St. John’s, which takes the theme of pub and makes it their own. For the longest time we’ve had restaurants attempting to define Canadian cuisine. It’s nice now to see people looking in their own backyards.

Other than your restaurant, where would you bring visitors to eat in Saint John?

Saint John is built on hills and valleys, and all the streets end up sloping one way or the other. You’ve got Britt’s Pub and then just underneath it, or the next door down, is Happinez Wine Bar. I’ve entered Happinez and had some wine, popped up the back stairs to Britt’s, had a bite to eat and then walked back down to Happinez without ever leaving the building.

Air Canada enRoute just released its list of the finalists for Canada’s Best New Restaurants. If you could eat at one of them this weekend, which would you choose?

I like what Bar Raval’s doing. They’re trying to bring something new to their area, but also to Canada. It’s not one dish, but the concept – the Spanish tapas atmosphere. I always like how places can be laid-back but structured.

Any advice for an aspiring restaurateur?

Take the time to build a solid team. I tend to look for people who are truly passionate and addicted to hospitality. I can teach almost everything else, but I can’t teach passion.

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Rob Gentile

Chef at Buca Yorkville | Toronto
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What is the Canadian restaurant trend of the year?

I wouldn’t say fine dining is hip, but it’s definitely starting to pop up again. When we opened our first Buca in 2009, you were seeing a trend of creative restaurants with really tasty food, but they were simple and casual. Now, you’re starting to see more refinement, more tasting menus, more chef-driven restaurants.

Other than your restaurant, where would you bring visitors to eat in Toronto?

I tend to give visitors a real feel of what multicultural Toronto’s all about. I love Lahore Tikka House on Gerrard. Then I’m going to take them to Dumpling House in Chinatown. Then a place like Bar Raval to give them a really cool insight on cocktails and tapas and what’s driving the city and its bar scene. And then I’m going to take them to Dandylion. I’m a big fan of Jay Carter and his attention to detail, his seriousness in his food.

Air Canada enRoute just released its list of the finalists for Canada’s Best New Restaurants. If you could eat at one of them this weekend, which would you choose?

The Merchant Tavern. I just got back from Newfoundland and I fell in love with it. Jeremy Charles’ team is fantastic – such gracious people and so hospitable. We had an incredible seafood tower, a few burgers, chicken sandwiches and a mind-blowing lobster roll.

Any advice for an aspiring restaurateur?

Every detail of the experience is extremely important, from the way guests are greeted to the way they’re seated, to their food and their wine. If someone leaves for the first time and says, “Wow, that was amazing,” they’re going to come back again. But if they leave saying, “Man, that was okay,” it’s not going to have an emotional impact on them and they’re not going to come back.

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Edgar Gutierrez

Chef at Rostizado | Edmonton
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What is the Canadian restaurant trend of the year?

Chef collaborations. Before, it was really competitive. Now, talented young chefs are coming back from travelling and they want to share all the ideas, techniques and new ways to treat ingredients that they’ve discovered. I learned how to cook octopus sous-vide from Connie de Sousa and John Jackson of Charcut in Calgary.

Other than your restaurant, where would you bring visitors to eat in Edmonton?

I really love Sabor Divino. We don’t get a lot of seafood in Alberta, but the chef, Lino, handles fish and seafood like no one I’ve ever seen, and he uses all sustainable Ocean Wise-certified fish. He cooks it delicately in olive oil on super-low heat. Another place is Duchess Bake Shop. They’ve revitalized the whole area at 124th Street, and everything they do is on point.

Air Canada enRoute just released its list of the finalists for Canada’s Best New Restaurants. If you could eat at one of them this weekend, which would you choose?

I’d like to try Lavanderia in Montreal, just because Antonio Park is doing something different. He’s got this big grill and big flavours, kind of like what we’re doing at Rostizado. I’m all about the big family-style sharing plates.

Any advice for an aspiring restaurateur?

Save your money and don’t get into debt. If you’re starting a restaurant and you’re focused on how much money you owe, you start to worry about that instead of about the service and the food and the details.

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Ron Shaw

Chef at Grapes & Soda | Vancouver
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What is the Canadian restaurant trend of the year?

There’s a continuation of a couple trends: the decline in fine dining and the increase in menus featuring locally produced, organic vegetables or proteins. People seem to want to go out and share plates more. They’re not into really formal service and white linens.

Other than your restaurant, where would you bring visitors to eat in Vancouver?

My all-time favourite in Vancouver is Burdock & Co. Last time I had a housemade goat’s milk cheese with hazelnuts and brioche that actually had honeycomb baked into it. And the honey was from just down the road, so beyond locally sourced.

Air Canada enRoute just released its list of the finalists for Canada’s Best New Restaurants. If you could eat at one of them this weekend, which would you choose?

Being from Winnipeg, I’d love to try Enoteca. I also want to go to Bauhaus for Stefan Hartmann’s schnitzel – he’s the real deal. But I’m going to have to go with Soif in Gatineau because they’re on the same page as us – a small-plates, wine-focused place. The bison tartare would be fun. Plus, I could drink a lot of cool wines.

Any advice for an aspiring restaurateur?

You need to be prepared for some really hard work and long days. The details that you have to focus on are of the utmost importance. If you stopped at the first hurdle – or even the first dozen hurdles – you’d give up on something that you’ve been working toward your whole professional life. So stay positive. Keeping grinding. Keep doing it.

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