rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Lora Kirk, head chef at Truffles at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.
Address: 21 Avenue Rd.
Hours: Tues. to Sat., 6-11 p.m.
Christmas Eve Dinner: $130/person
Christmas Day Dinner: $140/person
New Year’s Eve Dinner: $190/person
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $200
**** 1/2 (out of 5)
The kitchens at the Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville are working overtime as you read this, preparing for everything a hotel can anticipate — full bookings with all the room service that entails, banquets, private parties, special events, and packed rooms every night in the hotel’s four dining spots — the lobby tea room, the Avenue Bar, the Studio Café and Truffles, the marquee dining room where chef Lora Kirk is in charge.
A veteran of the kitchens at the Air Canada Centre, the Rosedale Country Club and the Connaught Hotel in London, Kirk is no stranger to the peculiar and rigorous demands of a big institutional kitchen. The holidays, however, turn the volume up to 11, and a chef has to be prepared.
"You’re not just doing one kitchen or one restaurant," Kirk says. "Even though I run Truffles, I still have to know what’s going on in the whole hotel. If there’s a big function going on, they might be taking some of my plates or they might need some of my guys for work during a plate-up. So I need to know what’s happening to plan my day.
"For our hotel we have all the take-out turkeys, so we have to be organized for that. Then there’s knowing that all the suppliers are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day. And since Christmas lands this year over Sunday and Monday, we have to be bringing in stuff Friday Saturday. So it’s a matter of being organized, and estimating the numbers, and what we’ll be using those days. And knowing that that all the outlets — room service, Truffles, Studio — will be busy. It won’t be like, 'Oh, I’ll just pinch another beef tenderloin off Banquets.' No, if I don’t order enough beef tenderloin, I’ll be the one running. And there’ll be nowhere to go, because everything will be closed. That’s the big trick."
In addition to her regular menu, Kirk has worked up several luxury menus for the special holiday events, featuring items that might have featured on her famed tasting menus. The Christmas Day menu, for instance, features a wild game and foie gras terrine, while the New Year’s Eve gala dinner starts with seared sea scallops with spiced Granny Smith apples and a walnut foam, and the fennel crusted Ahi tuna and spicy tuna tartar that was a standout on this week’s tasting menu. Christmas dinner, Kirk says, is about those familiar tastes and home cooking — roasts and braised meats; hearty fare — while New Year’s Eve is when the governor is off.
"Obviously there’s the champagne, caviar, lobster, foie gras, scallops," she says. "All the big ticket items. You want to go out, you want to celebrate, you want to go over the top, and those are all the key ingredients."
It’s a hellishly busy time, but a satisfying one for a chef, who can expand their creativity from special features like a tasting menu to a whole night’s fare built around luxury ingredients. "With New Year’s, you’re bringing in the high-ticket items, because people want that. You’re paying the dollars to go out, you’re dressing up, going all out. It is a good thing."