Aaron Lynett/Torstar news service
Christopher James can stand the heat. That’s why he’s in the kitchen.
He’s got one hand on a frying pan, cajoling an omelette. The other hand’s curled around a cleaver he’s wielding to make an apple resemble a swan. His leg’s extended — he’s pressing it against a freezer door to try to keep it shut. He’d be doing something with his other foot, but the chef needs a leg stand on.
He doesn’t have time. James, 34, is a one-man show weekend mornings at Rosie Robin A Touch of Convenience, turning this no-frills convenience store near Bloor and Dufferin Streets into a full-service brunch spot.
Sprinting among tables, a two-burner stove and a coffee machine a zillion times a minute, it seems, he’s a whiz at balancing customers and dirty dishes. It’s a labour of love, but this isn’t his day job.
James spends most of his time busting his backside in Yorkville as sous-chef (second in command) at Greg Couillard’s Spice Room and cooking at the Couillard co-owned Manyata Courtyard Café.
“I’m used to working my butt off,” says James, who also goes by the surname Showalter. “And no matter what restaurant I work in, I always like to have my hands in a piece of the brunch pie.”
While he’s starting out small at Rosie’s, he hopes to parlay this brunch gig into a permanent job one day. He’ll need a bigger kitchen, of course, which means he’ll need dough — not the egg and flour kind.
“It’ll only get better here as I can get more serious,” he says.
For now, he’s happy to slave away behind two hot stoves — even if he rarely gets a day off.
Until Spice Room’s opening March 31, James worked double shifts to help get the fusion eatery up and running. (Manyata opened March 19.)
And since the duo exploded onto this city’s culinary scene, flocking foodies have made Friday nights busy. James doesn’t leave work before 1 a.m.
But brunch customers are oblivious to his moonlighting. They’re chomping at the bit by the time he rolls into Rosie’s at 10 a.m. “Ten-ish,” he says, to clarify.
While there’s nothing laidback about James’ approach to getting stuff done, he’s a details man when it comes to cooking. That’s why he’s enamoured of eggs. “It takes time to make an egg.”
He perfected his egg flip, toss and fry at The Stem, one of our most entrenched greasy spoons. And he has extensive training in some of Toronto’s hottest kitchens, including Jump, Rosewater Supper Club, Habitat, Grapefruit Moon and Sassafraz, where he met Couillard, who was brought there to consult a few years ago.
“He really gives you room to find out your own style,” James says of Couillard. And James takes every opportunity to do so. Searching to reach personal culinary nirvana, he often spends hours of his own time in Couillard’s kitchen, fiddling with ingredients. Sometimes, he brings these gourmet “surprises” to Rosie’s.
“I’d like to make it like people are coming over to my place for brunch,” he says. “Breakfast is comfort food. I want people to eat and feel comfortable.”