A rising culinary star is partnering with one of Toronto's most influential restaurant companies to transform a Trinity Bellwoods tavern into a French-style bistro.
Brandon Olsen, owner of Chocolates X Brandon Olsen – a confectionery creating handmade chocolate treats of the sui generis variety – is opening La Banane with the King Street Food Company in the fall.
Though the company is behind some of the city's top restaurants, including multiple Buca locations, managing partner Peter Tsebelis says this project is "really Brandon's baby.
"I'm not sure if it was us choosing him, or him choosing us," he says, laughing. "[We have] a common ethos to food and hospitality."
Rob Gentile, executive chef at Buca, "has an immense respect for Brandon," Mr. Tsebelis says. "He's always somebody we've been fans of – of his food, work ethic and in general his personality."
To Mr. Olsen, this is an opportunity he is going to cradle. "I want this restaurant to be an institution," he says. "I want to create a legendary restaurant that is iconic in Toronto in 25 years. … I want people to come and still see me combing the line."
La Banane will take over a space that was occupied by The Saint Tavern, located on Ossington Avenue. It will have a mid-range capacity, seating 85 patrons, including the bar.
Mr. Olsen isn't interested in establishing a restaurant that becomes a proverbial flash in the pan. Hype, he says, can wear off. "I don't want to be a hot restaurant. I don't give people new trends. I give them what is good."
Mr. Olsen's track record reveals an affinity for French cooking. He worked at two restaurants in California's Napa Valley over two years: The French Laundry and Ad Hoc, both drawing inspiration from the region, the latter slightly more Americanized. More recently, he worked as a chef at Bar Isabel, a Spanish-like restaurant in Toronto.
"When I got to meet [Mr. Olsen], from the get-go, I said, 'This is somebody I really want to work with,' " Mr. Tsebelis says. "You can see his passion, his integrity, his respect for what he does. At the same time, it's not an overbearing type of attitude that you might find in a chef who has those characteristics or qualities."
Mr. Olsen's trademark style is shoes and shirts with bananas on them, confirming his love of the fruit, which explains the name of the restaurant.
"My fiancée and I were in Lyons, France, at a restaurant talking to a server. He said there's a saying that goes, 'avoir la banane,' which means you're smiling like a banana. It's big, it's bold and bright. It's a pleasing object. [La Banane] says, 'I'm going to experience something awesome right when I walk in.' "