By Robert J. Brodey
For two years now, I’ve been following Chef Teo’s feasts across continents. And for good reason.
He’s like an alchemist in the kitchen, transforming farm fresh produce into something harmonious and exquisite on the plate.
Even better, he pursues this high art in the comfort of your own home.
“The only way to deliver food in all its culinary glory is to make it on site, in the moment,” says Chef Teo, 32.
With the chef providing a skilled waitress and the guests bringing wine and splitting the tab, it’s like an intimate movable restaurant.
This Toronto native’s venture into private dining regularly takes him back and forth between Europe and North America.
While spending time with Chef Teo at the world’s largest food market, Rungis, I see first hand his tactile love of earthly things.
Far from the posh downtown boulevards of Paris are the massive industrial barracks filled with produce that feed a continent. Chef Teo spends most of his time at the market sniffing and sampling the farmers’ goods.
“There’s something about being around fresh vegetables that lifts the spirits,” he says, handing me some greens to taste. His enthusiasm is contagious.
For Chef Teo, the market tunes him into what’s available locally and regionally at any given time.
The bounty of Rungis, in fact, is the inspiration for a dinner party for sixteen guests at the apartment of Pierre Cesbron, a Parisian entrepreneur, who regularly hires Chef Teo for private functions.
As I climb the final flight of steps to Cesbron’s apartment later that evening, the subtle aroma of fine dining captivates the senses.
With a view of the Eiffel Tower and the wine and conversations flowing, a Swedish waitress circulates among the guests with delicious tempura courgette flowers and mini pork shrimp burgers. The culinary spell has been cast.
“At most restaurants in Paris, you pay a lot of money for run of the mill stuff,” explains Cesbron. “Teo definitely brings passion to the plate, which makes all the difference.”
Robert Dauney, a British actor living in Paris, agrees. “He has an amazing way of combining standard classics with an exotic curve. What he does is completely unique.”
Like excited children, we sit around the dinner table listening to Chef Teo’s assistant describe each course, as it arrives before us. A wine expert among the guests helps match wines with the menu, further elevating the dining experience.
The bok choy and fresh sprouts are steamed, the beef smoked, and the sweet potato mash melts in my mouth. There aren’t any rich cream sauces or vin rouge. This means ingredients tantalize without overpowering the taste buds.
Chef Teo comes upon his philosophy of freshness honestly. At 22, he worked with famed chef, Michael Statlander, at his farm-restaurant north of Toronto.
With Statlander, Chef Teo spent his time picking vegetables from the garden, cleaning poultry, and prepping in the kitchen.
He had worked in restaurants before, but Statlander brought food back to its roots in the earth.
Watching him work at his family’s farm in northern Ontario, grilling fresh tuna over an open fire, tending the vegetable plot, and smoking everything from quail to frog in the smoke house that he built, it’s clear Chef Teo has a deep affinity with the land.
His near silence while cooking speaks volumes about the natural intensity he infuses into his craft.
After several years working as a line chef, he came to the conclusion that the only way to get the best food on the plate was to remove ordering from the equation. Chef Teo prepares a fixed menu, pairing each course to create something like a symphony of the senses.
Of course, he may start with one vision, but it isn’t always where he ends up. Inspiration in the kitchen allows for constant evolution and originality.
At Petit Fer au Cheval, a Parisian café on Rue de Temple, he reflects on his underlying philosophy.
“Simplicity. If it’s too complicated, you can’t cook your way through it,” he says, as if ingredients are an elixir revealing culinary gold on the plate.
Shopping and prepping one of his dinners for 6-12 guests in anything other than a professional kitchen can be a challenge. But Chef Teo thrives in this setting. So do his clients, who invariably receive a great deal of praise for organizing the evening.
“Getting people around the table and offering them something very original at my place creates a much warmer feeling than a restaurant,” explains Cesbron, who uses these occasions to stimulate business opportunities.
“And unlike most restaurants, guests can stay until one, two, or three o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t matter. A lot more business gets done that way.”
Maybe the world isn’t ready to give up on restaurants, but making a big night out of staying in has now become a more savory option.
What’s next on the plate for Chef Teo? He is planning to spend some time in Italy learning more about the art of gastronomic simplicity from the masters.
No matter where he goes, he will take a piece of country Ontario with him — a cast iron pan forged at the Brockville foundry.
“It’s my lucky charm,” he explains. “I bought it from a flea market and have never been separated from it since.”
Like a food groupie, I will continue following Chef Teo, knowing that where ever he goes a magnificent feast will soon unfold.
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Post-Script: As of 2009, Chef Teo Paul opened his own restaurant, Union, along Toronto’s Ossington strip.