Cooking with Conviction
Veteran Toronto chef and restauranteur Marc Thuet is taking a bite outof crime the only way he knows how — by putting former convicts to workcreating food worth biting into.
Veteran Toronto chef and restauranteur Marc Thuet is taking a bite out of crime the only way he knows how — by putting former convicts to work creating food worth biting into.
In a former life, the staff of Thuet’s most arresting restaurant, Conviction, may have robbed a local bank branch or sold their last belongings to feed an addiction to drugs.
Now, they create and serve gourmet-quality food to customers and relish a second chance to make something meaningful of their lives.
Located in Toronto’s King-West neighbourhood, Conviction’s kitchen and dining room is staffed by 13 ex-convicts — seven in the kitchen and six out on the dining floor.
Wary diners can relax, however — there are absolutely no murders, rapists or violent offenders among the roster. Instead, most of the ex-cons on staff came to Conviction through non-violent crimes or from having struggled with substance abuse problems, something Thuet is no stranger to himself.
A recovering former drug and alcohol addict, the tattooed, bleached-blond Thuet feels a kinship with the ex-cons in his kitchen who he says are just as worthy of a second chance as anyone.
“It’s very important for people to see when you take these people and speak to them, they are nothing like the image people have of them. Once people see that, they’re going to realize they’re really decent human beings,” he said.
Biana Zorich, Thuet’s wife and business partner, says so far the staff have been exemplary and she hopes their zeal for doing an honest day’s work creating outstanding food will give them back a sense of belonging in society.
“We want to bring back their confidence and self esteem. They’re really intent on proving to the two of us how much they care and how honest they are,” Zorich said.
Now a saucier at Conviction, Scott Law, 36, always loved food but chose a darker path in life — he was convicted of nine bank robberies throughout Southern Ontario until he was caught in 1994, crimes he did to feed gambling and cocaine addictions. After serving his time, finding work was nearly impossible with his criminal record hanging over him and feels like he’s been given an unbelievable opportunity to go straight by Thuet.
“To actually be able to learn from such a wonderful chef is amazing. It’s such a recipe for success,” Law said.
Production company Cineflix is filming a documentary on Conviction to be aired in fall but for Thuet, the focus is squarely on the food and running a successful business.
Thuet shut down his previous restaurant, Bite Me, to make way for Conviction and invested in big renovations to the kitchen and dining area, something he admits is a big gamble but he is betting on the skill and commitment he’s already seen from his staff of ex-cons.
“It’s a massive risk. You have to have balls to do it. Passion is important and you can see (the staff) are very passionate about food,” he said.