Our insider: Olivier Le Calvez, executive chef at the newly opened Casa Madera, a buzzed-about restaurant serving elevated Mexican Mediterranean cuisine at Toronto’s 1 Hotel.
On his table: Family-style helpings of approachable Mexican food.
Summer entertaining style: Super-casual; no “fine dining” in sight. “Family and neighbours drop by around 2 p.m. and we start with beer or tequila, then put on some Latin music and start cooking for a late lunch.”
Can’t host without: The freshest ingredients. “I wake up in the mornings and go to the market with my kids and take inspiration from what I see.”
Best party trick: “I never put garlic in guacamole, it’s too overpowering. My secret is the right amount of lime juice and serrano chili, sometimes with a bit of cilantro root, which has more flavour than the leaf.”
It all started with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Ten years ago, Olivier Le Calvez was teaching at Le Cordon Bleu Mexico when a former student called to ask if he’d be interested in opening a Mexican restaurant in Toronto. “I wasn’t looking to relocate at the time, so I joked that if they offered me $10-million, I’d move,” he says with a laugh. Though the salary didn’t quite meet the fantasy, the opportunity felt right and he moved to Toronto with his wife, Andrea, and two children.
After an eight-year stint at El Catrin, in the city’s Distillery District, Le Calvez is now executive chef at the newly opened Casa Madera, the beachy-chic restaurant at 1 Hotel. “It’s the next step for me,” he says. “My food showcases the similarities between French and Mexican techniques and the way product is used. I think the city’s really ready for that now.” In his pandemic off-time, Le Calvez become an entrepreneur, co-founding the Casa Bonita tortilla chip brand, now carried at national grocery chains. Earlier this year, he also became a proud Canadian citizen. Now, from his home in Toronto’s east end, Le Calvez revels in firing up the barbecue and hosting neighbours, family (his brother lives nearby now, too) and friends for late lunch, Mexican style.
“When I’m at home on the deck in my apron, I’m cooking simple things and just putting out platters,” he says. “We spend the day enjoying each others’ company and sharing stories while the kids run around the cul de sac. That’s summer for me.”
“There’s a bit of pressure when I’m hosting, given what I do, but as long as I’m outside with people around me, I feel alive.”
Green Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
A light, verdant side that’s simple to prepare – a new summer staple.
- 2 heads Boston bibb lettuce
- 1 cucumber
- 5 or 6 pieces chopped fresh tarragon leaves
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
- 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp oregano leaves
- Pick lettuce leaves gently off the stem and place in bowl
- With peeler slicing lengthwise, make cucumber ribbons, then cut to 2 inches long each
- Place lettuce, cucumber, tarragon and chives in bowl
- In separate bowl, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime and lemon juices, oregano and salt
- Drizzle vinaigrette over salad ingredients and toss gently
Grilled Fish Pacifico Style with Side Vegetables
A crowd-pleasing meal that’s satisfying without being too filling or spicy.
- 90 ml olive oil, plus extra to brush fish
- ½ bunch of cilantro
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 pinch of fresh oregano
- Salt and pepper
- 1 whole (600-800 g) European sea bass, butterflied, head removed
- 60 ml olive oil
- 30 g salt
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 large zucchini
- 1 red onion cut
- ½ bunch of asparagus
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 lime
- 1 package corn tortillas
- 1 jar salsa verde (optional)
In a food processor or blender, combine olive oil, cilantro, garlic, oregano and a pinch each of salt and pepper; blend until smooth
- Slice the vegetables and place in bowl or tray with blended marinade
- Preheat the barbecue to 450 F
- Brush fish with olive oil and season with salt
- Put fish on grill with skin side up for 4 minutes
- Now add vegetables to grill; cook until lightly charred
- Reduce barbecue heat to medium; flip fish and cook for another 5 minutes
- Remove vegetables from grill and place on wood board; once slightly cooled, place in serving bowl
- Remove the fish from the grill and finish with olive oil and salt; place on serving platter
- Heat tortilla on grill; 2 minutes on each side (place in napkin to maintain heat once done)
- Serve fish with warm tortillas and finish with squeeze of fresh lime and salsa verde, if desired
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