If all goes according to plan, TIFF 2013 will have put Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in the same room … sort of. Both stars had movies at this year's film festival (12 Years a Slave for him, Life of Crime for her), and while their timelines won't overlap, it's entirely possible that their perfectly toned backsides will – in the same chair at Hudson Kitchen.
"Where?" would have been a perfectly reasonable question even a week ago. That was before the still-not-officially-opened Dundas West eatery laid claim to the TIFF 2013 "it spot" title, hosting the hairier half of Brangelina on its first night out of the gate last Friday, and wrapping up with another super-hush, uber-exclusive dinner for Jennifer Aniston and Co. on Saturday, according to sources.
"That's MENSA-level restaurant launching," says Toronto's stargazer-in-chief, social columnist Shinan Govani, calling Mr. Pitt's surprise appearance in Little Portugal (and not at one of the more expected, media-saturated TIFF venues) the "biggest bait and switch" he's ever seen.
Hudson Kitchen's unassuming corner lot maintained a steady flow of A-list traffic throughout the festival – Jennifer Garner, Matthew McConaughey, Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch all partied on a strip known not so long ago as the best place in Toronto to get an authentic custard tart. So how did an untested venue become the buzziest location of the fest?
Meet Jordan Fogle. Last winter, the CEO of the Mint Agency, which does dozens of the biggest TIFF parties every year, teamed up with four others to invest in Hudson Kitchen. Mr. Fogle has close ties to some of the most powerful L.A. publicity firms, and he also moonlights as a local restaurant investor. "Food and entertaining have always been passions for me," he says.
In the early 2000s, he was part-owner of the Bloor Street festival hub Lobby Bar, and is currently a stakeholder at Brassaii on King West – several TIFF 2013 film parties happened at Brassaii as well as Mint's pop-up "Live at the Hive" party located next door.
The Hudson Kitchen spot, at Dundas St. and Palmerston Ave., may be somewhat uncharted territory as far as celebs and paparazzi go, but Mr. Fogle saw an opportunity. "I thought the area felt fresh compared to the Ossington strip, and the actual space had great bones," he says.
When event planners from Fox Searchlight came to Toronto in August to vet possible venues for their festival events, Mr. Fogle knew that an intimate, unknown location would be ideal for its more exclusive affairs. "We could have launched in August, but I thought leveraging our festival projects would be a good idea," he says. He also knows the players: Mint has overseen many successful parties for CAA, the talent agency that reps Mr. Pitt. In 2011, Mint hosted a top-security-clearance private dinner for Mr. Pitt's previous TIFF offering, Moneyball, in the Burroughs Building on Queen West.
When Hudson Kitchen does open to the public in about two weeks, it will be in keeping with the unfussed gourmand trend of the past few years – Chef Robbie Hojilla has cooked recently at Woodlot and Ursa. It will also be in good company. Following the opening of the Black Hoof in 2008, the strip between Bathurst and Dufferin has exploded with such prestige restaurants as Enoteca Sociale, Brockton General, Campagnolo and The Grove. Susur Lee gave his celebri-chef stamp of approval, opening Bent across the street from Hudson Kitchen at this time last year.
Information surrounding the 12 Years a Slave dinner at Hudson Kitchen was equally guarded. Shielded by blacked-out glass walls, Mr. Pitt (along with the film's director, Steve McQueen, and its co-stars, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch) enjoyed family-style nosh along with the rarest of festival rarities: a press-free party.
At Saturday's Life of Crime dinner, the same no-media, no-cameras policy will be in effect, though since word of the city's new hotspot has clogged the Internet, it's unlikely that Aniston will score the same frenzy-free environment. Either way, it's mission accomplished for Hudson Kitchen.
The restaurant will most likely be open to the public the week after next, at which point mere mortals can dine as Brad did. If they can get a table.