The interior of Biff’s Bistro is in a word, stunning. The staff bustled about efficiently and very welcomingly. Their smiles knowing, almost saying “Yes it is fabulous isn’t it?”. Biff’s is the perfect interpretation of Paris meet Toronto.
Chef Amanda Ray came out to meet me and I was struck instantly not only by her youth but also her quiet, calm nature. I commented on it and she exhibited what I would quickly learn was her inclination to laughter. She also promised me she wasn’t so quiet all of the time.
She showed me around the restaurant with pride and admiration in equal measure. Amanda talked about the artwork throughout the restaurant and it’s clear while listening to her talk about food that she too is an artist,
Amanda’s honesty while answering my questions was both generous and genuine. Her easy humour made the interview most enjoyable.
Stacia Carlton: Where do you find your inspiration?
Amanda Ray: “I love to travel. Travel is a very big inspiration for food. It offers me an opportunity to see what’s going on in different cultures, whether it’s a different dish or a different flavour component. And meeting the growers… holding this beautiful product in your hand. And these are the people that work from sun up to sun down, that’s inspirational.
SC: What trends are happening in the city now that you’re excited about, and which are you over?
AR: “Toronto is really great for a lot of things, people really understand food, there are a lot more foodies coming out to dine and they’re more educated. I like that there are well rounded and nutritious dishes. We do that… use what’s seasonal… the sun is shining you want to eat healthy. (After much hesitation she finally settled on stuff she was over.) “You know, maybe burgers… and tacos… I think it’s been done… I think the city has been tapped out in that market. Juice bars too… it’s a bit over saturated. But you know burgers are great… I think our burger is one of the best.”
SC: Where do you find your ingredients?
AR: “We have a lot of relationships with farmers, we’ve had some great opportunities to meet people who are growing… there’s a great company called “100 Kilometre Foods”, they’re wonderful and act as the go-between, so for chef’s to have that chance to use more local foods, you can go out on a ride along and meet the producers and that’s always fun, feeds into the inspirations as well. I love farmer’s markets … the north market on Saturdays and Brickworks is fantastic.
SC: Where do you like to go out to eat in Toronto?
AR: “I have lots of friends who are chefs in Toronto so i generally like to try to support them. I also try to go to places that are opening up… see what’s happening, but I also have a big love affair with Vietnamese food. I love to go to Cava. I like to do something I’m not going to do at home.”
SC: What is your favourite place in the world to travel for food?
AR: “I’ve been in Vietnam and recently I’ve been to Charleston, obviously very different, but getting back to roots and into the BBQ scene, which was fun. In June I’m going to Israel,. Also, France… incredible. And across Canada as well, see how we’re using local produce and local fishermen, people who are doing great things.
SC: What was the last thing you ate?
AR: “This morning for breakfast we had a vegetarian Sri Lankan curry made by one of the guys in the kitchen who’s Tamil… it was incredible.
SC: Do you have a motto by which you live your life?
AR: “I think being passionate and loving what you do. Do something that makes you happy… inspire people… having the opportunity to inspire people to come and have something to eat… to break bread, to share a glass of wine, you want people to come in and relax… to make people smile.
Hospitality , kindness, generosity are words she lives by and she stands up to them with ease. And yes I did get to eat the lamb burger at the end of the photo shoot! Find it at Taste of Toronto July 2-5.
Stacia Carlton is a culinary school graduate and food writer. She writes about all things food weekly at www.bestillandeat.com