By Marian Staresinic
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Chef Luis Valenzuela developed a passion for food at an early age. Luis immigrated to Toronto in 2001 to study the culinary arts at George Brown College where he quickly developed his own unique style and flair, embracing traditional methods while staying true to his Latin roots. He went on to work at Toronto hotspots North 44 and Bymark, working alongside renowned Chef and owner Mark McEwan and Executive Chefs Brooke McDougall and Andrew Ellerby.
Luis continued to work under influential leaders who helped shape his culinary style. His travels took him to Europe where he worked under Chef Bruno Barrbieri in Verona, Italy and Chef Adolfo Munoz in Toldeo, Spain. After returning to Toronto, Luis became Head Chef at Café Cinquecento in 2006, and quickly rose through the culinary scene to be named Executive Chef at Torito Tapas Bar in 2007. Throughout these experiences, Luis has created balance by giving back to the community through meaningful charitable causes and campaigns.
In 2012, he became co-owner and Executive Chef of Carmen Cocina Espanola, offering Toronto Spanish-inspired cuisine paired with Luis’ bold influence. In 2013, Carmen was named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants by enRoute Magazine.
First off, tell us how you first got involved in the food industry.
By accident. As most young men and women are often confused about what they want in life, I wasn’t the exception. I came to Canada as a young explorer, as an adventurer, and the further I dove into this beautiful society the more I was mesmerized with its culture; the art, the music, the colours and the flavours of this great nation. Here in Canada is where I discovered an affinity with cooking. It allowed me to express myself and to connect with others; it gave me the power to transform the dead of a living creature into more than just four words. It gave the power to channel the energy, sweat and sacrifice that so many people put into creating an experience, from the farmer that works the land to the man or woman that transported the food to us, from the cook to the dishwasher, to the server to the bartender, and to me.
What chef or chef(s) have been your biggest influence?
I like to say that there have been many cooks and chefs that have inspired me and pushed me to keep growing. Whether I have read their books or have met them for a brief moment, they have left a mark of inspiration on me. If I have to name some, meeting Chef Alain Ducasse and Massimo Bottura was exceptional! But all of them have been and will continue to be my teachers.
What do you think makes owning a restaurant in Toronto different?
There is a lot of competition that we face in Toronto and I believe everyone is trying to do their very best every day, which in turn makes it a very delicious city to go out and eat! At my restaurant, we try not to be the flavour of the month but the flavour that you constantly crave. Toronto is the epicenter of the culinary revolution in Canada (that of course may seem like I have a bias for Toronto, but I cannot deny my love for this city!)
What do you do when you aren’t cooking?
I enjoy my days off, spending time with my girlfriend Maia and my dog Luna. We love going for long walks around the different neighbourhoods that this city has to offer, as well as the beautiful green paths (or white, depending on the season) like the Don Valley and Evergreen Brick Works. I love going to the countryside to antique shops and finding places to hike. I love reading outside as the sun sets and since the restaurant has made me a night owl, I really enjoy looking at the sky through a telescope. There is something so beautiful about the silence of the city as I stargaze from the backyard of my house.
About the author:
Marian Staresinic is the Vice President of Branding and Buzzing. She has been in the food business her whole career, beginning at Stratford Chefs School then as a restaurant and cooking school owner, celebrity chef talent manager, AGA Cooker Brand Manager, food editor and the founder of Windsor’s Slow Food chapter.
About Branding & Buzzing:
Branding and Buzzing is a modern food marketing agency that brings the buzz to their clients through engaging consumer conversations, social media and real-life experiences that are inspirational, memorable and most importantly, brand-driven. For more information, visit brandingandbuzzing.com.