We find out what drives Patrick Kriss, the Michelin-pedigreed chef of Alo, Toronto’s new tasting menu restaurant
He seduced Toronto gourmets at Acadia before stepping out of the limelight. Now he’s back.
Patrick Kriss is the chef and co-owner of Alo, a new tasting menu restaurant on Spadina.
Image: CJ Baek
It was May of 2012, and Acadia — Little Italy’s brilliant flash-in-the-pan southern restaurant — was at a pivotal moment. The restaurant had opened a year prior to near-universal acclaim thanks to opening chef Matt Blondin, a fiery rising star with artistic leanings and a penchant for Twitter meltdowns. But he was about to decamp for Momofuku Daishō, and Acadia would need to find another unicorn of a chef, somehow, in order to survive.
“When Acadia lost its fabulous chef, Matt Blondin, to David Chang’s Momofuku, I thought Acadia was done for,” food critic Joanne Kates wrote of the situation.
But Acadia’s co-owner Scott Selland had an ace up his sleeve: a French-trained chef in his early thirties who was relatively unknown at the time but had already worked at some of the best restaurants in Toronto and the world. The chef was Patrick Kriss.
Acadia was known for one thing only: the food. The shrimp and grits — impossibly silky in texture, with glass-clear consommé — could subdue even the most hardened curmudgeon. Kriss’s duty was to ensure that Acadia remained one of the most hyped restaurants in the city.
“It was good pressure,” Kriss recalls. “It was a challenge.”
The reviews came in fast. Under Kriss’s guidance, Acadia came in at number two on Joanne Kates’ top 100 restaurants list in 2012. The Globe’s Chris Nuttall-Smith, too, was enamoured with the new chef.
“He looks confident, but hungry, like he’s going places,” Nuttall-Smith wrote.
Kriss had exceeded expectations, but around a year later, he left the job. Acadia couldn’t survive the loss. It closed at the end of 2013.
Like a basketball player making a crucial buzzer shot, Kriss had thrived under the weight of expectation. But once he was ready to work again, he wasn’t about to do the same for someone else.
“My career has always been a step forward,” he says. “That would have been a step sideways.”
Kriss is now ready to make a more lasting impression with his own restaurant, Alo, which opened near Queen and Spadina in July. It’s a fine-dining restaurant with sky-high ambition, a risky concept at a time when other upscale spots, such as Yours Truly, Colborne Lane, Centro and, of course, Acadia, are disappearing. But Kriss is relying on his pedigree, which is steeped in Michelin-starred experience.
There was a time when that development seemed unlikely. Born in Scarborough, Kriss grew up eating strip mall rotis and Chinese food. His family, he says, was not particularly food savvy.
His first kitchen job was at Lick’s; then, he spent some time at the Rosedale Golf Club. He went to George Brown’s culinary school, followed by a stint at North York’s Auberge du Pommier. Eventually, he went to New York City, applying for a job at the Michelin-starred Daniel. He worked two test shifts — he cleaned porcinis, clipped chervil, cooked sauce and made a terrine — and was hired soon after. For three years, he worked under the legendary Daniel Boulud, climbing his way up to sous chef.
“I just worked hard,” he says. “They took a chance on me.”
When Daniel temporarily closed for renovations, Kriss set off for France to expand his Michelin-star repertoire, working as a stagiaire at La Maison Troisgros, just outside of Lyon, and Restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon in south-central France (both three starred).
In discussing his exploits or his talents, though, Kriss is about as understated as you can get. On the surface, he comes across as machine-like in his efficiency. Ask him a question, and the answer is bound to be short. How did Daniel shape him as a chef? “A lot of it had to do with the cooking,” he says, simply.
But those who know him describe him as fun hearted and intensely devoted to his work.
“His personality isn’t robotic, but he is robotic in the way that he executes technique,” says Victor Barry, chef and owner of Splendido. “It’s perfect every single time.”
Barry hired Kriss in 2011. The two formed a close friendship, and Kriss became Barry’s chef de cuisine.
“When we were working together, it was some of the best food that Splendido has ever done,” Barry says.
In an interview with Toronto Life last year, Barry confidently stated that Alo would be the best restaurant in the city when it opened.
Alo took around a year and a half to get up and running. Kriss rounded up investors, forming a working partnership with front-of-house maestro Amanda Bradley, whom he met on LinkedIn. Bradley had previously managed George restaurant and was assistant maître d’ at La Grenouillere in France (Michelin starred, as the pattern goes).
The build was difficult. The space previously housed two separate fashion-related businesses, so workers had to install new plumbing lines and move in massive pieces of kitchen equipment.
The restaurant is tasting-menu oriented, which Kriss says allows him to focus more on quality. By all appearances, this is a passion project. Kriss stands at the pass, ensuring that each plate is as artfully composed as a Vermeer painting. One night he served Pemaquid oysters with cultured cream, watercress and salsify. It was kaleidoscopic in its colour scheme and composition. In another dish, lightly cured Japanese sea bream was topped with Cincinnati radish for a brilliant pop of magenta.
Restaurants like this, which cost upwards of $150 per person before tax and tip, rarely draw enough crowds to rake in cash. But Kriss is just doing what he knows how to do.
“You go in with a vision,” he says. “You don’t let things you can’t control determine what you do.”