Chef Romain Avril is one of those in-demand figures of the foodie world with a resume that would make a mouth water; not only has he worked in various Michelin-starred restaurants and opened his own prestigious establishment in Toronto’s chic Fashion District, but he’s also become a popular television personality, famed from his appearance as a competitor on Chopped Canada and best known for his appearance as a judge on Top Chef Canada All-Stars.
We recently spoke with celebrity chef Avril to learn more about his rise to the limelight and uncover exactly how the Parisian prodigy made a name for himself in Canada’s most populous city.
We understand that you became passionate about cooking when you were a young child growing up in France. What, or who, were your initial influences?
To be quite frank, I think the pleasure of eating. There weren’t any other influences in my family besides the incredible produce I was exposed to since my young age.
You began working in some very prestigious restaurants from the age of 18. Before that were you classically trained in a culinary school, or how did you develop your gift for cooking to warrant a place behind the line?
I think we are all born with an amount of talent, some more than others — different skill sets. Who you work for, how passionate you are, how hungry and dedicated you want to be to your craft, is — to me — what will set you apart.
Do you have a memory of the first dish you ever produced that you were truly proud of — perhaps a food that made you think, “I can do this, and this will be my career”?
It’s actually something I failed to do. I was in charge of the making of the Christmas log when I was 14 or 15 years old. I used salted butter instead of unsalted to make my butter cream; it was obviously not great and it was splitting. My family was proud and not bothered, but I was super angry at myself and couldn’t stand it and was very upset. I knew I was made for this because I was already a perfectionist, and in my eyes, it wasn’t good enough to be served.
After working in France and England you decided to travel the ocean and come to Canada. What influenced you to make that journey and why did you choose Toronto?
Multiple reasons. I didn’t feel complete and home yet in the U.K.; I had to see something else and grow more. I came to Montreal when I was 18 and loved it — the culture, the people. I knew I’d be back in Canada. I also wanted to improve my English, so Toronto made sense. I love bigger cities, and finally I took a chance on my career and wanted to see if my skills and knowledge would have a place somewhere else.
You’ve competed as a chef on Chopped Canada but served as a judge on Top Chef Canada All-Stars. What was it like sitting on opposite sides of the table for these shows?
Well, they are both incredible experiences, and part of my goals and life achievements. So I am happy I did it already in my early 30s. Competing was tough and exhausting, but fun — but I really thrive as a judge. I love it. I feel like it’s something I have in me and want to do more, maybe one day, if I’m lucky.
You have worked at many excellent top venues in Toronto, and we’ve learned that you worked with chef Claudio Aprile, who owned Origin and Colborne Lane at the time. We interviewed Claudio in the early stages of KHACHILIFE Magazine and learned more about his craft. What did you learn while under his guidance and what did you take away from working with him?
I think more than the chef side, he brought [out] the businessman that I am now; he made me a lot stronger mentally and a go-getter. I owe him a lot and still go to him for advice to this day.
Another exciting opportunity has been your venture with GE MONOGRAM as the company’s brand ambassador. Our Editor in Chief, Ramsin Khachi, has a long relationship with the brand and supports its efforts in the appliance space. How did this come about for you and what is your favourite appliance in its line up?
I was approached in 2017 by Monogram and loved everything about the brand, and really saw right away the connection and a fit with my own. I love the brand, their beliefs, the level of precision and craftsmanship. I do have to say I’m a lover of the pizza oven — it’s tremendous!
Your restaurant in Toronto, Neruda, is inspired by the work of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. What drew you to his poetry, and how does it influence the cuisine and atmosphere?
It is more an influence of the owner’s, rather than me; the ingredients that I use, as well as the farmers’ work, are the words I would use to create the poetry that my dishes create.
When you’re dining out, what’s the most important element of the experience for you, personally? What details really blow you away?
I am an atmosphere and vibe kind of guy, then service, and finally the food. Doesn’t matter how good the food is if you are not having a good time.
We understand that you’re rigorous about seasonal menus and planning ahead. What can we expect to see on the menu at Neruda this spring?
Lots of greens; it’s such an easy [ingredient] to work with, most definitely a chefs’ favourite. But I can’t say too much. You’ll have to wait and see.
Photos courtesy of Romain Avril.