Chef McEwan’s Take On the Hospitality
This celebrity chef believes the service is as important as the food
“So from a social standpoint, from a business connection standpoint, I think the industry is very unique that way. You meet the who’s who of the city in your restaurant.”
“I find food to be a very creative medium, so it’s a wonderful way to connect with people,” says Chef Mark McEwan. “People love to eat, so you get to meet people that you would never meet otherwise. So from a social standpoint, from a business connection standpoint, I think the industry is very unique that way. You meet the who’s who of the city in your restaurant.”
As a celebrity chef and restaurateur for the past 35 years, McEwan is now among the who’s who of Toronto. His restaurants include Bymark, ONE Restaurant and Fabbrica, which now has three popular locations. McEwan’s entrepreneurial success includes his high-end McEwan Catering, best-selling cookbooks, and he’s head judge on Food Network Canada’s hit series Top Chef. His diverse set of ventures in food all seem to give back to him in a distinct way—strong relationships with more friends.
“I like to observe the world, but I know how to socialize and I have fun doing it,” he says. “The great gift of meeting the people I meet, you get to have conversations with them and they actually become your friends. It’s very interesting to have business conversations with them and talk to them and listen to what they do. So I learn from many, many, many people.”
At age 19, almost by chance, McEwan decided to try a cooking apprenticeship and fell in love with the kitchen. But his success over the past decades has been earned with the understanding that the culinary arts is as much about giving as it is about food.
“Service is as important as the food. I think it’s a 50/50 game,” he says. McEwan’s lifelong mantra—“always exceed expectations”—has been a key ingredient in all of his ventures.
“My clients tend to be generally well-travelled. They understand what a good meal is, a good restaurant. So when you don’t live up to that, they’re a pretty good judge of it.”
From the moment a customer opens the door and walks in, for example, did someone smile and say hello? Or did someone turn their back to them and ignore them for five minutes? When a patron sits down in the bar, did someone get them a drink right away, or did they have to flag somebody down and wait 10 minutes for their drink?
“All these things add up to a really great night or a really bad night.”
“For me, the experience I create for the client is the first and foremost important thing, and then everything else falls into line after that,” he says.
But mastering the art of service is not done in a day, or a year, or even a decade.
“You never go a day without mentioning service, or having that conversation with the staff. I tell my managers, ‘It’s not enough to tell someone something once. In our business, you have to remind them constantly. Constantly,’” he says. “It’s a little bit like the military, but it’s a little bit friendlier.”
Now he’s passing his culinary know-how and legacy on to his son, though McEwan isn’t sure he’ll ever fully retire.
“I’ve had my head down most of my life, working hard. Head down, the world goes by. So I’m going to keep my head up a little bit more,” he says.
ONE Restaurant’s Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes (Makes 4 servings)
by Chef Mark McEwan
3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3½ cups buttermilk
½ cup butter
1 pint blueberries
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
¼ cup white sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Vanilla cream cheese
1 cup cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
¼ cup icing sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Crumbled graham crackers for the top
In a medium sauce pot, add all ingredients. Cook over medium heat until mixture has reduced by ¾ and blueberries have broken down. Set aside and keep warm.
Cream cheese topping:
Add all ingredients into a small mixing bowl. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften. With a spoon, mix well until everything is incorporated. Store in fridge until ready to use.
Crumble your favourite graham crackers with your hands or a mortar and pestle to a chunky crumb. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.
Heat a lightly buttered nonstick frying pan over medium heat.
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and whisk until just moistened. Don’t overmix. Using a ladle, add the batter in medium-size circles to the frying pan. Cook pancakes until lightly browned on the first side—until edges begin to dry and bubbles show through. Flip and lightly brown the other side. Serve hot.