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FOOD AND DRINK

4 MIN

Buy Groceries Where the Top Toronto Restaurants Do

… and you can bring home the deliciousness, too

When we talk about restaurants we almost exclusively talk about chefs, while not nearly enough attention is paid to the suppliers. But what would a restaurant be without coffee, cheese or bread?

Sysco supplies around 2,000 restaurants in Greater Toronto. It is a giant company that offers anything a restaurant could possibly want or need, from coffee filters to fryer oil. Most restaurants use Sysco for the workhorse items but go to specialists to make their offerings unique. A chef is probably not going to have the time or expertise to roast coffee beans, baby a sourdough starter or source cheese directly from a bunch of different dairies. So where do restaurants go shopping for the good stuff? 

Chefs cannot live on Sysco alone, thankfully Toronto has a fully invested army of specialty purveyors. Here are just a few of the suppliers and consultants who play a big part in making the city’s restaurant scene so dynamic – and most of the businesses below have storefronts and/or restaurants where regular consumers can pick up a delicious treat or two as well.

Meat

Stephen Alexander started Cumbrae Farms in 1994, and his farm-to-butcher shop operation now encompasses four stores and works with more than 60 farms across Ontario and Quebec. Cumbrae won’t supply just any restaurant; Alexander only works with chefs who are serious about ingredients. He has no time for those looking to just trade on his brand. “It’s about having our ingredients in the hands of great chefs, it could be a sandwich shop or a fancy restaurant.” So when you see Cumbrae’s name on the menu you can trust that a lot of thought went into the meat program.

Both Sanagan’s Meat Locker (located in Kensington Market) and Cumbrae’s do a lot of custom grinds for chefs looking to create the perfect burger. “We don’t sign a confidentiality agreement but I wouldn’t give away the recipe without a chef’s permission,” says Peter Sanagan of the eponymous Meat Locker. Sink your teeth into custom-ground beef at Rude Boy on Roncesvalles and The Federal on Dundas Street West. Both butchers also age steaks for their chef clients,while Sanagan’s is also aging pork racks for The Harbord Room. “Four-week-old pork is delicious.”

Cheese

The Pristine family opened the Cheese Boutique on Bloor West almost fifty years ago. They were supplying cheeses to Lynn Crawford when she was chef at the Four Seasons. That shop is now located on Ripley Avenue (some ways from the city centre – if you’re visiting Toronto, it’s probably best to drive or take a taxi here) and is still the city’s go-to cheese supplier. What started out as 30 wholesale orders a week has now grown to at least 400. For instance, the boutique supplies a pecorino aged in lavender and mint from Northern Italy to glam Financial District resto The Chase, where chef Michael Steh grates it over cavatelli tossed with butter from Normandy (also supplied by the Cheese Boutique) that is 84% milk fat. “It’s just pasta, butter and cheese,” says Afrim Pristine, “it’s awesome.”

Shellfish

For a landlocked city, Toronto is positively swimming in amazing fishmongers – from Hooked to Rodney’s Oyster House to Oyster Boy and Honest Weight (the latter three also function as sit-down oyster houses). Rodney’s has been supplying the city with oysters since 1987 and many of the country’s best oyster slingers come from there, including Oyster Boy’s Adam Colquhon. Every New Year’s Eve he delivers up to 25,000 oysters to restaurants across Toronto from Prince Edward Island’s Cascumpec Bay to British Columbia’s Fanny Bay.

Honest Weight made headlines last year when they started selling First Ontario shrimp, the farmed product is almost impossible to keep in stock. “They’re super popular. We always sell out,” says retail manager Jay Browne, citing their sweetness and local provenance as the reason they are proving so irresistible to the chefs at Momofuku and Bar Isabel as well as home cooks.

Courtesy Rodney's Oyster House

Coffee

John Rufino started roasting coffee back in 1974. Today his business, officially called Classic Gourmet Coffee, supplies more than 200 restaurants and cafes. Richmond Station, Jimmy’s Coffee and Pizzeria Libretto are just a few loyal customers of the company that continues to be run by the Rufino clan.

Courtesy Classic Gourmet Coffee

Rufino Coffee, fast becoming something of a Toronto icon

Wild Edibles

Forbes Wild Foods, run by Jonathan Forbes and his son Dyson, is a countrywide foraging operation that keeps chefs well stocked with Canadian ingredients. They send spruce tips and Saskatoon berries to Canadian embassies in Tokyo and Abu Dhabi, as well as to the prime minister’s private chef. Meanwhile kitchens in the heart of Toronto, including Edulis and Canoe, make use of the Forbes’ reindeer moss, chanterelles and highly prized blewits mushrooms.

Bagels

Kiva’s Bagels has been in business since 1979. You can find its bagels – a fluffier, fatter shape than the Montreal style – at the Four Seasons and Shangri- La hotels, as well as at Schmaltz Appetizing (which operates a catering business as well as a grab-and-go counter where customers can run in for a bagel sandwich or just one with a schmear). Chef de cuisine Josh Charbonneau goes through more than 1,200 bagels per week. Everyone’s favourite? “The everything chub chub,” a fully loaded everything bagel from Kiva’s with gravlax, smoked whitefish salad, dill cucumbers and a horseradish cream cheese schmear.

Schmaltz Appetizing

Bread

Blackbird Baking Co. is Simon Blackwell’s Kensington Market bakery where sourdough reigns supreme. He supplies his bread to restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and even butcher shops (Sanagan’s Meat Locker, just a few doors down, carries it). The sourdough baguette, made with a five-year-old starter, is his biggest seller. “Dave Mottershall, at Loka Snacks, is doing some very cool dishes utilizing our breads.”

Hot sauce

Diablo’s Fuego, developed by chef Rossy Earle and her company SupiCucu, that is a master class in the whole notion that a hot sauce should deliver flavour over heat. Her expertly tuned hot sauce has numerous fans, including the chefs at Descendant Pizza and hometown haute spot Canoe, where chef de cuisine John Horne uses it on a dish of chicken fried sweetbreads. You can find it in other places across the country, such as at Maison Publique in Montreal and Mallard Cottage in Newfoundland.

Published Thursday, October 13th 2016

Header image credit: Behold the cheese vault. Courtesy The Cheese Boutique

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