Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Interview with Joe Duby from Blu Duby

Interview with Joe Duby from Blu Duby


Blu Duby is an unpretentious restaurant in downtown London that celebrates honest food and wine, a sophisticated atmosphere, friendly service and hospitality. Owners Joe and Cheryl Duby have established a loyal clientele by creating a welcoming ambience where patrons can come and enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail at the bar, a couple of appetizers or a full dining experience, in a casual yet stylish setting.
Creating a restaurant that others talk about and willingly recommend to others is paramount for restaurant success. The Duby’s are more interested in serving you a good dinner than in doing culinary gymnastics to compete for a spot in the gastronomic Olympics. Quite simply, the restaurant is aiming to feed its customers well by combining accessible artful cuisine and an eclectic wine list. Their tagline: “A remarkable experience designed to accommodate every budget.” The result: a sleek and very successful operation with a family-friendly global-inspired menu appealing to a broad demographic.
Joe Duby is a natural-born raconteur and a well-known restaurant professional with many years of experience and a good friend who is proficient in all aspects of the restaurant business. I sat down to talk with Joe about his thoughts on the current state of the restaurant business.

Do you have any kind of particular restaurant management style, or philosophy?

I guess I tend to take more of a hands-on style rather than a laissez-faire approach to management. Although I trust my staff implicitly, I believe that constant coaching to improve is very important. Starting with good people has been the key to our success. Investing our management resources in training good employees to be excellent employees is much more efficient than trying to make average team members good.
Our team is like family to us so we take a personal and proactive approach to help them in their personal lives as well as their working life: we encourage them to invest and budget, lead healthy lifestyles, and deal with the stress of the business in productive ways. I usually assume the role of mother, dealing with the day-to-day management of the restaurant while Cheryl, acting as the father of the family, steps in as the big gun in resolving some of the more major issues.
Our goal is to help staff achieve their personal and professional goals to ensure that the Blu Duby remains viable and continues to provide a good living to more than thirty families.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a restaurateur?

Consistency is the hallmark of excellence. The experience that we offer should be the same regardless of the day and time, whether we have five tables in the restaurant or 50, whether guests have joined us for a beer and an appetizer or a five-course menu with wine pairings. Continually providing great service, food and atmosphere make a restaurant excellent. It’s a difficult thing to achieve and we strive to get there.

How is the restaurant business changing?

Social media, I believe, is the biggest change to the restaurant industry in the past decade. Every shift is under scrutiny; both fantastic experiences and failures are there for every prospective guest to see. While I used to think of it as a challenge, Cheryl has convinced me that it is really a positive aspect to the business. Before social media was prevalent, if the guest had an issue with their experience, they would most likely just never return. Review sites, Facebook, and Twitter give a restaurant an opportunity to make adjustments to policy, change items that aren’t working, and coach staff. More importantly, it gives the restaurant an opportunity to make amends for a poor experience. Every restaurant, and every business, is going to make mistakes. A couple of our most loyal patrons have had a rocky first visit and given us a second chance. Our job is to make sure that second chance isn’t a wasted opportunity, and so far, we’ve been very successful with this.

Let’s talk culinary influences. What are the big ones for you?

The politically correct culinary geniuses that I should be referencing are Canadian chef icons like Susur Lee, Mark McEwan, and David Rocco. I respect these chefs immensely, and understand the passion, knowledge and hard work it took to get to where they are. I tend to like the simpler fare of chefs like Michael Smith and David Adjey. I think that we often forget the critical talent that we have here in London. Chef/restaurateurs like Steve James and Chris Squire, restaurateurs like Tania Auger and yourself who put King Street on the map as a restaurant destination in London. Also the current brigade of talent like Kristian Crossen, Andrew Wolwowicz and our very own chef Jamie Craig and sous chef Graham Stewart. Chefs like these show me that we are able to be creative, forward-thinking and dynamic in our own backyard. When designing new menus, we sometimes play off items we have seen other local chefs try. It is always a collaborative effort where everyone at the Blu Duby’s participation is required, not simply encouraged, but expected.

Blu Duby has been a very successful concept — you have exceeded the naysayers’ expectations. What are your longer-term aspirations?

This has been largely due to the wonderful staff and patrons, many of whom I consider close friends. I knew that we needed a diverse and extensive menu to fill a 126-seat restaurant. Coupled with hot, fresh food, a beautiful venue, and attention to detail in every respect (Cheryl finds it amusing that we line up all of the wood grains in the same direction and use a string to ensure tables are in the right spot in the restaurant), we hedged our bets in our favour as much as possible.
As for the future, we will continue to grow and learn and improve. I don’t believe in maintaining the status-quo, so we are always looking for a new idea, a new menu item, and a different way to do things. This is always in the effort to make our guests’ experience “remarkable.” If opportunities for expansion present themselves, who knows what the future holds?

Blu Duby
32 Covent Market Place, London
Monday–Thursday: 11:30 am–11 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 am–1 am
Sunday: 3 pm–9 pm

Monday, March 7, 2016

Toronto’s Culinary Hot Spots 2016

Toronto’s Culinary Hot Spots 2016


What is more exciting than planning a culinary getaway to Toronto? Here are a few recommendations and tips for navigating the vibrant and ever-changing restaurant scene and some of Toronto’s hottest culinary tickets.

Park your vehicle. There is an efficient transit system that makes it easy to get around the city. More than that, Toronto is a walkable city of many communities with great restaurants, markets and culinary retailers.

Located on Front Street and operating since 1803, the St. Lawrence Market is heralded as the world's best food market by National Geographic. The other must-see is Kensington Market, another noted gastronomic attraction, and colourful vestige of the area’s storied history. The market is an expansive multi-cultural culinary scene sprawling across numerous blocks to the west of downtown’s vibrant Chinatown. Both markets remain a fundamental part of Toronto’s epicurean culture, even for the most jaded of visitors.

The revitalization of former industrial neighbourhoods like the Junction with its proximity to High Park has meant a proliferation of upscale restaurants, stylish cafes and indie bars opening along Dundas Street West. The Junction neighbourhood was ostensibly dry until 2001, and the elimination of prohibition has had an irrefutable effect by attracting a new hip demographic. The Indie Ale House brewpub in the Junction is perfect for craft beer aficionados, who like beer flights or quality upscale food offerings, or maybe just want to pick up a growler to go. Praiseworthy spots in the ‘hood are Cool Hand of a Girl, Nodo, and Bricco Wine Bar. Other standouts are Honest Weight, a New England-inspired fishmonger/seafood spot, and a gourmet take-out sandwich shop, Cut the Cheese. The Hole In the Wall is cozy venue for live music, craft beer and cocktails. Don’t forget the Junction Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Chef Rob Gentile and his partner’s third and most sophisticated restaurant is the style-driven 100-seat Buca Yorkville, on the main floor of Yorkville’s Four Seasons condo tower. A personal favourite, Buca Yorkville has a stylish Italian design sensibility and a seafood-focused menu. The initial Buca, squirrelled away down an alleyway on King Street West, is still one of the city’s great osterias. And Bar Buca, Gentile’s chic aperitivo/snack bar at King and Portland reflects the mouthwatering diversity of the Italian foodscape in Toronto.

A new and great place to check out is the tiny, recently opened southern French-inspired Charbol, located in the refurbished 20-seat back dining room of what was previously Le Trou Normand. Until this past summer, Le Trou Normand was Yorkville’s oldest French restaurant, where I once worked with a young Susur Lee during the restaurant’s heyday. Speaking of Lee, he recently opened the upscale comfort-food-style Frings with rapper Drake, on King Street – where it remains difficult to get a reservation. 

David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar started the “Lucky Peach” empire and that’s why dining at the Toronto outpost attached to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue is de rigueuer before venturing to Chang’s other restaurants, Daishō and Shōtō. With innovative takes on what would ordinarily be considered street food, Noodle Bar’s signature specialty is ramen with pork belly and shoulder, fish cake, and egg — and of course its famed fried chicken. Be sure to pick up a copy of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food and lifestyle journal.

Interesting restaurants paying homage to the nostalgic underpinnings of Canadian food culture are Actinolite, Boralia, Richmond Station and Edulis.

The ingredient-focused and technique-driven Richmond Station is just south of Richmond Street, off Yonge Street. Chefs Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan have a daily chalkboard menu.
What started with a few independents on Ossington has morphed into many resto/bars locating in the in the area in the last couple of years. We appreciate chef Justin Cournoyer and co-owner Claudia Bianchi’s venerated Actinolite restaurant, which was decreed by Toronto Globe and Mail dining critic Chris Nuttall-Smith as “one of the most essential places to eat in Ontario, if not in Canada.”

At Boralia, on the southern part of the Ossington Strip, chef Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu offer top notch dishes inspired by indigenous peoples and early settlers — think modern riffs on Canadian frontier food.

Another Ossington hotspot is the 40-seat Bellwoods Brewery located in a repurposed garage. The beer is brewed on site and it’s an alternative spot to pick up a growler.

Chefs Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’s Edulis is a much acclaimed gem located below the King West beaten track on Niagara Street.

The Wychwood/Hillcrest Village is another foodie favourite hub, forging the longest corridor of the most ethnically diverse culinary establishments in mid-town. The southern barbeque at The Stockyards, sustainable ocean-wise certified fish and chips at Sea Witch, and modernist spins on Indian cuisine at Pukka are all highly touted.

The area is also home to Artscape Wychwood Barns, originally built as a streetcar maintenance facility in 1913. The converted heritage building is a community centre and cultural hub with a mix of amenities including arts, culture, food security, urban agriculture, environmental and other initiatives. The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns on Saturdays attracts foodies and neighbourhood denizens with its diversity of quality farm fresh food and artisanal products.

The range of choice in Toronto, gastronomically speaking, is endless

Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre

 Culinary Education:  Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre


Since 2002, David Corke has been the Executive Director of London Training Centre (LTC), an award winning, non-profit social mission driven organization, which applies market-based strategies to self-fund programs and initiatives that help people have a positive impact in the community.

 Corke is a highly-respected and fervent food educator with a rock-steady commitment. He is a long-time proponent for local and sustainable food systems, from both a civic and economic development viewpoint.

When it started in 1987, the LTC helped disenfranchised young people find employment in the food service industry. Since then, however, LTC has morphed into a cutting-edge and multifaceted organization providing food skills training, advocacy for careers in food service, and other services that range from computer training to banquet staffing.

Corke’s work in the non-profit sector was influenced by a successful 20-year career in the private sector. He owned and operated restaurants, as well as being employed by a large foodservice corporation in the highly competitive Toronto market.

I asked Corke his thoughts on why he thinks the restaurant industry is struggling so hard to find talent.

“I think the short answer is twofold. Speaking locally about the London and region market – one where many customers are looking for consistency of product and price point, there are a limited number of restaurants where skilled chefs do not quickly become bored. At the same time, as culinary educators and advocates for the industry we believe that the staff of an operation should be considered much more than a labour cost on the profit and loss statement. Our point: the restaurant business is about people so if the goal is a dining room full of guests having incredible food experiences, owners need the best people working for them. If restaurateurs want their operations to be “exceptional” then they have to be the “exception” — and pay more for the best.”

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has funded the LTC, for a second year, to provide a Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship program. The course, taught by expert chef instructors  Steve James and John Fisher, examines in depth safe knife skills, kitchen sanitation and safety, fundamental cooking principles, menu design, pastry baking and bread making practices, nose to tail butchery, identification and use of seasonal produce, stock and sauce making. Limited enrollment and small class size offer a better opportunity for an exclusive student learning experience. The first session began at the end of January, and the second intake will commence in June/July.

Last year’s pilot program was a success. Students were given four months of full-time practical instruction. This was by followed by 12-week paid work placements with restaurants such as Roco Taco, Bertoldi’s Trattoria, Dolcetto and The Red Rabbit, and with Chef David Van Eldik at the Convention Centre. Some participants have moved on into culinary programs at Fanshawe College. “A lot of chefs we approached in the community are willing to take participants afterwards for co-ops. If they take them on as an apprentice after the placement, there is also additional funding available to them,” says James.

Applicants are screened by James and Fisher and must demonstrate a commitment to the program. They are required have to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma or equivalent and be available to attend the program full time.

Guest speakers, including chefs and restaurateurs, are slated for each session. In the past, Stratford chef Simon Briggs has given pastry demonstrations. Chef Michael Smith has spoken about the profession and chef/restaurateur Mark Kitching has talked to students about setting expectations in the restaurant industry. This session, restaurateur Ian Kennard from Willie’s Café will teach about food costing. The students are also taken on field trips. Destinations have included Antony John’s certified organic farm and greenhouses ‘Soiled Reputation’; the Milky Whey Fine Cheese Sheep in Stratford for a cheese tasting; and Jill’s Table for an olive oil tasting.

The true essence of the LTC narrative is that they have achieved the whole seasonal cycle of our relationship with food. They are not only culinary educators and employment specialists; they are also farmers, retailers, caterers, food artisans, restaurateurs, funders and local food advocates.

The Local Food Skills program connects people to food. It provides solid food-based knowledge and provides participants with the opportunity to explore the idea of working with food as a job or a profession.  The program is a full-time three week course that provides skills training, industry certifications and learning experiences including fundamental culinary skills, foodservice styles, growing, harvesting and retailing food at a farmers’ market. Revenue from the wildly popular monthly Local Food Skills dinner put on by students supports this program.

Last spring, LTC launched The Larder, an online food store. Items are offered weekly, and might include croissants, Montreal-style bagels, specialty breads, and chicken and veal soup stocks; all are prepared by Culinary Program pre-apprenticeship students.

 Local Food Feasts Catering is another arm of the organization and operated by LTC with the support of the Local Food Skills program and the banquet staffing business known as Allumette. 

Feastival, the LTC’s fundraiser takes place annually. Last July, the popular event was a great success with artisanal food stations, guest chefs, live music, and Ontario wines and craft beers. Students of the Local Food Skills Program catered the event alongside special guest chefs and local food artisans like Las Chicas del Café, Railway City Brewing Company and volunteers from Les Marmitons London, who worked the pizza oven with chef John Fisher. 

 This year the Feastival will relocate to the St. Thomas Canada Southern Railway Station (CASO) for a sit-down “Harvest Dinner” for approximately 150 people on Friday October 7th. The dinner is a perfect way to celebrate seasonal local food while supporting Local Food Skills programming.
If you would like to attend one of the monthly Local Food Skills dinners, learn more about the program, or to share your thoughts and ideas about food, the staff encourage you to contact them.

 For more information please call London Training Centre 519-685-4331 or visit