By: Jim Bamboulis
When I set out to explore unique dishes in Toronto, I never expected to find something quite like this.
Chef Frank Parhizgar and his wife Shawn Cooper have owned and operated Frank’s Kitchen in Toronto’s Little Italy for several years. Both set out from the start to create not only delicious meals in an elegant yet fun setting, but to make dining at Frank’s Kitchen a truly memorable experience, something you talk about with friends until the next time you visit. Because after all, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll re-visit.
So what makes Frank’s Kitchen so special?
It’s one-of-a-kind, unique in how the ingredients are sourced, how the food is prepared and how it’s presented. Every detail along the way is meticulously handled by Chef Frank who not only creates the various meals on the menu but actually hand-makes the ceramic plates and bowls that patrons eat the meals from. Culinary masterpieces on ceramic masterpieces all in one shot.
I caught up with Chef Frank to find out more about how his travels have influenced the meals he prepares, to describe the ever-evolving and sometimes relentless restaurant scene in Toronto and of course where the idea to physically make his ceramic plates and bowls came from.
Q. How much of an impact did your travels influence what you create, how you prepare and how you present your dishes today?
A. I’m sure my travels have influenced me in all kinds of ways, as seeing new and different things can’t help but widen perspective. But what I think of now, when you say travel is local travel like St. Jacobs. This is where I often go for product. I am a big supporter of the little guy.
That’s who we are. And I want to support the Mennonite Farmers. Not to mention their product is excellent. I see a plate as a canvas and have a hard time putting food on a plain white plate. You want the plate to convey a story and be in keeping with the style of food served on it.
Q. How much of your cooking style and technique is influenced by your family and
overall ethnic background?
A. Generosity was always a huge part of our food culture that extended to family and friends. We feel the same way at our restaurant, about our employees and guests. We are value driven, we build little complimentary extras into the dining experience so that it’s an experience, not just dinner.
I’ve also been influenced by my mother who always did everything from scratch, baked her own bread, made her own cheese, yogurt etc. I also love to use nuts, lemon, herbs and spices which are a big part of Persian culture.
Q. Describe the inspiration behind physically learning to create your own custom plates and dishes…and why do it?
A. The inspiration came from wanting to try and mimic the environment where certain ingredients come from. I am very interested in the origin of things and the circle of life. For example, the lobster dish is often plated on a blue plate to mimic the sea, our Chantrelle Tortellini plate is brown for the earth, and so on. I do it because I want to progress, improve, elevate, and by nature I’m a craftsman. This was just a natural evolution for me.
Q. What’s the reception been from customers?
A. The reaction has been threefold, first by my cooks who were very excited by it, then by our servers who have had to change the way they serve a bit, as many of these plates are difficult to hold or stack.
So when it comes to serving sometimes they have to carry fewer plates at a time, as some of them require two hands to serve to the guest. Which changes the formality of things somewhat, in a good way.
So though more difficult, they are proud to be serving something so unique. And it’s fun for them to get the reaction from the guests, who have all seemed to really appreciate the added effort; a Chef’s day is long, and people know this. Plus, it’s really in keeping with our ideology here of everything that can be made from scratch should be. And they are all one of a kind, so it’s fun for the guests to see different types of pottery at the table.
Q. What sport best describes owning and operating a restaurant in Toronto? And how do you manage to stay competitive?
A. Baseball. Although an individual performance, still part of a team. We remain competitive by not resting on our laurels, not remaining stagnant, and by keeping up with and adjusting to the many shifting variables of the restaurant industry. And by constantly looking at things with new eyes, to remain objective. It’s amazing how easy it is to look at the same thing night after night and not really see it anymore.
We also learn by paying attention to what our peers are doing, our guests’ feedback and many other things we see and hear every day. I also read a lot. When I’m not cooking I’m reading, I am a big believer in self-education. This is an ever evolving business and you need to try to evolve along with it.
After traveling and visiting a couple of Michelin Star restaurants in France which had beautifully composed and intricate plating with so many different elements on the plate, it was the simplicity of the cuisine in Italy that stopped me in my tracks.
Just the way it was so delicious in its simplicity where each of the ingredients really shone through. I have influences of both French and Italian in my dishes, some are rustic some are composed, some have a more complicated taste profile, others rely on the simplicity of a couple of ingredients.
Q. You not only provide diners with exceptional dishes but your idea of a great meal also involves having a uniquely memorable dining experience. That being said, what’s your idea of a uniquely memorable and experience-filled food vacation?
A. As far as a memorable “food vacation”… anytime anyone cooks for me…that’s a food vacation!!