Oprah’s ex-chef fuses sweet, salty, smokey
The patio at Fuzion has been going full tilt all summer, as it has for every other restaurant that’s occupied this corner of Church Street for as long as anyone can remember.
rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Address: 580 Church St.
Lunch: Wed. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner: Tues. to Wed., 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.; Thurs. to Sun., 5 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $90
**** (out of five)
The patio at Fuzion has been going full tilt all summer, as it has for every other restaurant that’s occupied this corner of Church Street for as long as anyone can remember. Fuzion opened here eight months ago with Patrick Wiese in the kitchen, but since the first warm nights, he’s been besieged in his tiny kitchen, honing his menus and keeping the patio supplied with sandwiches and salads.
The Victorian townhouse where Fuzion set up last winter has been maximized, with a dining room on the main floor, and a lounge and private dining room upstairs. The owners are courting corporate clients, but the patio has been keeping everyone busy. It’s a long way for the Chicago-born Wiese from his days cooking for Oprah Winfrey.
Wiese hadn’t left school when he started working for Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, back in the heyday of Oprah’s Book Club, doing private dinners for the TV host as well as catering Harpo’s numerous functions. He took over the kitchen at the University Of Chicago’s grad school after that, helping transform a cafeteria into a kitchen that served healthy, made-to-order meals for the students. He bounced around the windy city for a few more years, doing high-end catering and other gigs until he fell in love, got married and moved to Toronto and the kitchen at Fuzion.
His experience taught Wiese to be flexible, which would explain his menu, full of accessible dishes like an Angus Burger, a croquet monsieur sandwich, a lobster BLT and pork tenderloin, each built with a twist, like the vegetarian Nicoise salad that replaces the tuna with deep-fried tempura tofu.
The tuna ends up in an entrée — seared on the outside and sashimi raw on the inside, on a bed of warm fennel, red onion, sweet plum tomatoes and fingerling potatoes, with basil oil and a saffron rouille. It all works together beautifully, with the added benefit of being both flavourful and light. Wiese sees it as a perfect example of what he does, a showcase for all of his influences.
“The tuna is kind of a take on a French bistro thing,” he explains. “The potato and fennel is just a nice warm salad, the rouille is sort of Provencal. When I do a menu, I go through my ideas and I think, ‘great, I’ve got something that’s kind of French, something that’s kind of Southern.’
“I try to go through different flavours so when you’re eating it, it starts at the front and by the time it hits the back of your throat you’re like, ‘Hey, there’s something different there!’ I try to put smokies and salties and sweets together. I start with that profile in my head, then I move things around. Everything here started out differently. I like to try to hit the Indian or Mediterranean or Moroccan or French or, in my case, American barbecue-gone-bad type thing.”
It’s the sort of dish that’s rich without being heavy, and I wonder if it’s a reflection of his work for celebrity clients like Winfrey, with their demands for good food that won’t clash with a diet or overdo the ascetic austerity found too often in what’s known — derogatively, and with good reason — as spa cuisine.”