Chef Carl Heinrich

Q&A: Carl Heinrich, Chef/Owner, Richmond Station, Toronto

Education: Stratford Chef School Graduate (2005)

Career Path: Sooke Harbour House; Rundles; Daniel Boulud (New York City, Vancouver); Cowbell; Marben; Stages throughout New York City, France, and Monaco; Richmond Station

Years as a Chef: 17 years; 6 years as Executive Chef

What are your earliest memories of cooking?

I have so many early memories of being in the kitchen with my mother. She encouraged us to be involved from a very young age. By the time we were in high school, my sister and I were taking turns cooking for the family a few nights a week. It taught me early on that it doesn’t matter if a meal takes 30 minutes or three hours to prepare, what matters most is that it is delicious.

Why do you think you were drawn to a culinary career?

I’ve always loved taking care of people and cooking for others has always been a great way to do that. To be able to give others a feeling of satisfaction from a well-made meal has always given me a great sense of accomplishment. Also, kitchens are busy and often chaotic places and they can be very stressful. But there’s nothing like the adrenaline and energy that is created from a team of talented cooks making service come together day after day. To make that happen you have to have a strong sense of camaraderie with your colleagues and I’ve always enjoyed working with people towards a common goal. Success relies on talent absolutely, but it also rests heavily on your ability to be organized and efficient. Keeping your section clean, managing your prep and mise-en-place, all those components of the job were fun for me to focus on when I was starting out and they gave me something to improve on every single day. I always liked that too.

How would you describe your restaurant?

Richmond Station is a neighbourhood restaurant located in the downtown core of Toronto. We aim to make delicious food using great ingredients and refined technique. Equal in importance to the food is our belief that it’s absolutely necessary to provide excellent hospitality. We like to offer an environment that is bustling but warm and friendly.

If you knew you were eating your last meal, what would you have?

Whatever my team at Richmond Station wanted to feed me.

What is your philosophy about food?

Your food is only as good as the ingredients that you start with and so you will always make better food when you start with the best ingredients possible. Put energy into sourcing great product and build your menu from there.

Where do you go to dine out?

I don’t go out often as I’m usually at the restaurant and love to cook at home when I can but that said, Toronto has so many new restaurants opening all the time. When I do get the chance to eat out I focus on trying to find something new.

What is your favourite ingredient?

Whatever Brent and Gillian from The New Farm are growing.

Who were your biggest influences or inspirations for becoming a chef?

Two women in my life: My mother for making simple, delicious meals from scratch. Also, my high school in Sooke had a fantastic culinary program and my chef instructor was a woman named Pia Carrol. She was an amazing teacher who really encouraged me to pursue cooking as a career. And taught me that being a kind leader was essential to success.

If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?

Ham, sourdough and mustard.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?

It’s hard for me to come down on people for being excited about food but when you burn something and turn it into a powder that looks cool but tastes like ‘burnt’…

What do you think is the most underrated food trend?

Whole animal cookery: it’s good for food costs, it helps to support small communities and local farmers, and when you buy the whole animal and are forced to use it all, it opens up a whole new world of creativity in the kitchen.

Is there any type of cuisine that you would like to experiment more with?

I’d love to continue to experiment with our bread program. We have a pretty delicious sourdough but I see how using different flour and tweaking our ferments could make it even better.

What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?

Don’t forget that you are first and foremost in the hospitality business and so you need to think of the experience your restaurant offers as a whole. Just because you make good food doesn’t guarantee people will love your restaurant. At Richmond Station, our number one goal is to make sure every guest leaves happy and wants to come back. That sentiment has been the test that we use when it comes to making decisions at every level of our business — from the chairs to the cocktail list to the food menu. Luckily, it has served us really well so far!

Which cooking technique or tool is a favourite of yours right now and why?

I’m really enjoying exploring techniques that focus on keeping flavours fresh and pure: steaming vs. sautéing, cooking something in its own juices as opposed to the deep fryer. In general, trying to find ways to keep the food healthier and purer.

What is your favourite food combination right now?

I’m loving fresh, crunchy, raw cabbage in a very bright, acidic dressing. I made a slaw with tacos at home the other night and it was killer.

Do you have any culinary guilty pleasures?

It’s not really a guilty pleasure but my wife makes the best granola and I couldn’t live without eating it every morning with my coffee.

What are some of the most interesting or unique challenges of being a chef?

Leading by example and being the hardest working person in the restaurant every day are the greatest challenges. Cooks are amongst the most tireless people out there and you have to be the one leading with the most energy every single day.

Talk a bit about the unique aspects of running a restaurant in Toronto and working with local producers and ingredients.

We’re so lucky in Toronto since we’re surrounded by some of the best farmland in the country. What’s more, there’s a captive audience of diners who are excited about eating more ethically sourced ingredients and supporting local.

What advice would you have for aspiring new chefs as they enter the industry?

Be prepared to be humble and hard working. Learn to respect the ingredients you work with and to cook from scratch. And there’s lots of great food out there so it’s important that you explore different styles of cuisines, different restaurants and work with different chefs so that you can find a style that is your own.

Photos by Katie Cross Photography.