Caribbean Roots Spice Adrian Forte’s Contemporary Canadian Cuisine #MEATingCHEFS
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Adrian Forte, I suppose you could say I am a restaurateur, as I have transitioned from chef to owner. Currently I own Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles, AF1 Caribbean Canteen, I am also working on another Dirty Bird at York University and a cocktail bar, both opening this fall. By the fall I’ll need a vacation.
What is your hood, and what is it’s hidden gem?
I live in Scarborough, because at the end of the day I need to get out of the city. The distance is good for my sanity, and I can clear my head and just relax. I like a lot of Vietnamese food, so Pho Metro is my go-to. But if I am in the city, I am big on brunch, so I go to Saving Grace.
Who is your number one motivation when you are cooking?
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I would say myself. I talk to myself a lot when I am creating and recipe testing, so I make notes as to what I did right or wrong, and figure it out. For me, in terms of cooking, I have blinders on like a horse, I don’t look at what others are doing, because I don’t want to be influenced in any way. Contemporary Canadian is my style, and I want to use the local influences to build the best dishes I can, it is part of who I am culturally as a Canadian.
Who is your personal food idol and why?
Roger Mooking, because I grew up watching him, wondering how does this guy know how so much. He is from the Caribbean, like I am, so it was a real eye-opener to see him cooking things like Malaysian food, and it was inspiring. People who are successful are usually uncomfortable, because they have to think on their feet all the time and be innovating. I worked with Roger for quite some time, and he taught me a lot, and would throw new ideas and ingredients at me, to challenge me and help me to grow as a cook. (Adrian pauses as we smell the most amazing curry aromas coming out of the kitchen, he gets up and praises his cooks for doing such a good job).
What is your favourite seasonal ingredient?
I like peaches! I am a big fruit guy, and sometimes for dinner I will sit down and just eat fruit. I think it is the Caribbean in me. Local Peaches are far superior. I have had peaches from Georgia, the so-called Peach State, and we beat them. I like grilling peaches, and I serve them with some Oka (cheese) from Montreal, and I kill it with some balsamic and some salt. Peaches are my shit, bro. People should eat more peaches.
What is your favourite cut of meat to cook, and why?
That is so hard to answer, I am such a meat guy! To be completely honest, I am going to say oxtail (chuckles). I eat oxtail almost every day at the restaurant. It’s just so meaty and full of goodness, and if you cook it properly, that sticky robust beefy flavour . . . yes! Nothing better than sucking on the bones, getting every last bit of meat out of there.
What is your dream ingredient from any corner of the globe?
Definitely ackee, because I only get good ackee when I go home. Fresh off a tree? If you have never experienced that, you just have to. It’s a lot more firm and the flavour is more potent. It is just such a unique ingredient, and a part of the national dish of Jamaica—Ackee and Saltfish. If I could get it delivered fresh, no contest.
Favourite after service/work meal?
Chinese BBQ pork. I have to. It is so good and so cheap. Get some with white rice, from King Noodle, f— everywhere else. I put these guys (his kitchen staff) on it, and they love it now. There is just something about it, so fatty, and that ginger sauce is so good and sticky.
What do you do and cook when you have a day off?
When I am off, you think I cook? (Laughs hard) I am in bed, watching Netflix, trying to ignore my phone, and I’ll order in Indian: Chicken Vindaloo, Onion Bhaji, Shrimp Tandoori . . . all of it. I’m really into Anime right now. When you work long, hard hours, you just need to escape.
Favourite home-cooked meal cooked by someone else?
People need to cook for me more, it’s been a while, I think December! (We discuss dinner plans, so he doesn’t feel unloved). It was Curry Goat, when I was home, that my uncle made for me. My family can cook, boy, and it was good. No part of the goat goes un-wasted, they chop it up, season it, and it goes straight into the pot, on the charcoal stove and just cook it down, slow and low
What is your guilty pleasure?
It would have to be something I haven’t had in a long time, because you’re going to cook it for me, right? (reflects) I haven’t had a really good burger lately. Cheesy, beefy, bacony, nice soft bun . . . simple and well done. Food is really nostalgic, and takes me back to “a happy times.” I think of hitting Jonny’s (which was a favourite for us both as kids) with my boys. There are certain food memories that just resonate, like when my grandmother, back in Jamaica would make Ackee and Saltfish for breakfast. In part, why I do what I do is to relive those moments, and find my own happiness through food.
What was your favourite job, to date?
(chuckles) I used to be a caterer at a sex club (we both laugh)! (I clarify, not a strip club, an actual sex club?) A sex club. It was a very fun job, I just made whatever I wanted for their buffet, so people could keep their energy up. When I first got the job, I didn’t know what to expect . . . but it did open my mind to life and life experiences (nothing after this we will talk about, but needless to say, it was a fun job).
If you could give one piece of advise to the cooks of tomorrow, what would it be?
Don’t take yourselves too serious. Kids are coming out of culinary school expecting the world, and wanting everything to happen right away. It’s not going to, and I tell my guys that all the time. School doesn’t mean you are ready to run a restaurant, you need patience. I am where I am, not because I am talented but I am obsessed with this shit, and the time I put in is what has given me my talent. Society and the industry and TV lend this false sense of what it is to be a chef, everyone thinks they can cook. It is insulting to the hard-working craft of being a professional cook, and it puts the wrong ideas in young cook’s heads. Practice, remain humble, and always learn from your mistakes.
Have you figured out the meaning of life?
Ah man, that is the worst question! You are born alone and when you die you get a casket, that’s it. You get a start and end date, and you get a dash. The dash is what counts. Nothing else matters. So, I am going to do what I want to make myself happy, because at the end of it, and the other date comes up, I don’t want regrets. You gotta “do you,” man—make the best use of that dash.
. . . Streetcars squealed down College Street through Little Italy, the reggae was floating through the air, and the smells of beautiful Caribbean food wafted all around as Adrian and I talked the afternoon away watching the people walk past AF1 Caribbean Canteen. It’s a good life when you are surrounded by good food and good friends, and that is all that really matters. Adrian put it so well: make the best use of your dash. Until next time.
Visit AF1 Caribbean Canteen at 596 College Street | caribbeancanteen.ca