Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto
Chef David Chrystian poses at Chez Victor’s dining room.
Chez Victor at the Hôtel Le Germain
Address: 30 Mercer St.
Brunch: Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lunch: Mon. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner: Mon. to Sun., 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $100
**** (out of 5)
Professing a commitment to local products and seasonal produce has become an article of faith for chefs. Globally, the trend began with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse; locally, it’s the triumph of Michael Stadtlander of Eigensinn Farms, who has taken the credo to its ultimate end, moving his kitchen to his own rural home. For David Chrystian, who grew up in the Niagara town of Grimsby, it’s really more an expression of loyalty to his roots.
Young and soft-spoken, Chrystian took over the kitchen at Chez Victor, the restaurant at the boutique Hôtel Le Germain, last year, after a remarkably eventful career. After beginning his apprenticeship at 18, he did time as sous chef at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Toronto eateries like Jump, Splendido, Acqua and the Rosewater Supper Club and New York’s Gramercy Tavern before donning the chef’s hat at Patriot Restaurant & Brasserie and Accolade. He was in charge of the Drake’s kitchen during its very hectic and high profile opening, which left him feeling burned out.
“I decided to take a sabbatical after that,” he recalls. “It was pretty intense. So I disappeared for a year or so, went back to Niagara, did some travelling, was in Chile mountain climbing for a month, then did a road trip to California and spent some time in the culinary school there, a sort of refresher, testing myself again.”
He started his own consulting company, the Centre For Wine And Food Experimentation, and spent six months overseeing an impressive revamp of the menu at Joy Bistro before getting the call from the owners of the Hôtel Le Germain. They had decided to take back their restaurant space from Guy Rubino’s Luce, and hired Chrystian after what he calls “a pretty rigorous interview progress.”
“It’s a great environment,” he says. “It’s a great company that’s growing. It’s rooted in Canada — there aren’t any fingers or buttons being pushed from outside of Canada, that’s for sure. So everything feels rooted.”
Talking me through his dinner menu, it’s clear that Chrystian’s passion is for details, such as specific products he’s sourced, such as the beef he gets from Kerr Farms. They supply him with the striploin he uses in one of his favourite dishes, a grass-fed, mostly organic beef that gets finished with the cattle eating a month’s worth of corn feed. “The tenderloin, when I’ve used it, is extremely marbled, which is generally unheard of.”
Kerr Farms also has a tomato field, and Chrystian has come to rely on their canned tomatoes during the long months — most of the year, let’s face it — when fresh tomatoes are locally impossible. “I’m using their tomatoes in a sort of cod stew. It’s sort of unheard of to use canned tomatoes right now — but they’re plump and sweet, and I absolutely don’t mind using canned tomatoes cause they’re so good.”
The Cod Stew is remarkable, full of Mediterranean touches like olives, fennel and navy beans, but hardly rigorously “correct.” Then there’s the Jerusalem artichoke risotto that comes with a seared scallops appetizer. “It’s very simple, but the tongue in cheek element is what makes it a very interesting dish,” says Chrystian, the rare sort of chef that can find satire in a dish. He’s proud of his winter menu, the first one he’s had a chance to really perfect since the restaurant opened, and says that it had “a lot more thought to it — it’s winter, so it’s a little more comfort food, heartier, and we’ll look to spring and summer to get a bit more phonetical, a bit prissier.”