I received a message on Facebook on the third of January from an old student of mine from the Cordon Bleu, telling me that someone was looking for a Chef to open a Mexican restaurant in Toronto. She asked if I would be interested, and jokingly I said: “Well if they pay me - I remember saying some extravagant number - I’ll do it!” Obviously I was just joking, but about ten minutes later I got another message from her saying that they wanted to call me. Two days later, they called me telling me that they wanted to try my food. They asked if they could come down to Mexico in February. So I said yes! I would love to have them!
When I mentioned it to my wife, we both thought it would be amazing to open a restaurant in Toronto. Not just because Toronto seemed like a great place to be, but because it was an opportunity to show Canadians (and others) that Mexico isn’t only about violence, drugs, and bad things. That there is a super big and beautiful culture that hides behind it. I knew I could do that through food - teach people how we live in Mexico and how we enjoy life. We can be in the worse situation of our lives, but we will still be happy. No matter what happens, we are always smiling. And a big part of that has to do with our food, and how it brings us together.
So the owners came down to Mexico, to my house to eat. It was a way for me to show them what Mexican food is really all about. I remember they were late, and I had to tell my server not to come over because I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it or not. They showed up around 5 o’clock. I remember that day really well because they were suppose to stay for only 45 minutes, but they ended up staying for 4–5 hours. And that’s what it was really about. I was cooking and serving with my wife, and drinking and eating. The food was all simple stuff that I usually cook for my family, but the products that I used were simply amazing. But when they were leaving I noticed that I had done what I needed to do, because everyone left happy.
In my head, these guys wanted to open the greatest Mexican restaurant in the City. And they wanted me to come, because they wanted someone who knows and understood Mexican culture and could bring it here to teach Torontonians, Canadians, and the staff about it. And that’s what happened.
People come in and see the visual references, taste the culture, and become a part of it. They sit on the patio to eat, at first for 45min to an hour, and end up staying for 3 more hours just drinking, eating, and enjoying themselves just like we do in Mexico.
It’s all about being happy. Yes it’s true it’s hard to work in a restaurant that can do 2000 covers in a day without having issues and problems. Every restaurants has problems, but the only difference you find here, is the energy you find when you come into the restaurant. It is so strong and so positive. From the hostess at the door, to the dishwasher at the back, everybody is happy. It’s only about happiness, about life, and enjoying life. We come here, we try to show Torontonians that this is Mexican life. Even with El Chapo, the crap about politics and the bad influences with drugs, people in Mexico are still happy and still enjoy life, and food is the biggest reason we are happy.
being in the kitchen is my happiness. I play, and I cook, and I love. And I think that this is the future of gastronomy in general. Good food, affordable so everyone can enjoy it, but also happiness and enjoyment. And that’s what El Catrin is. It’s my life, it’s my love. My love for my kids, for my wife, for my country, for my food, etc… I take ownership, my family even take ownership, because I love what I do, and I love food.
I cook because I want to make people happy, and when they are at my table and they enjoy themselves it makes me happy, and I have done what I needed to do.
Oliver Le Calvez - Chef at El Catrin