In 2022, when 13 restaurants were awarded Michelin Stars, Toronto achieved a historic milestone as the first Canadian city to host dining establishments of such prestigious acclaim.
More restaurants in Toronto received awards in the second edition of the Michelin Guide announced earlier this year. This recognition is not just significant for the 82 restaurants honored; it also holds great importance for the city of Toronto.
“Since the guide was announced, many chefs have set their sights on it,” says chef Eric Chong of R&D, a recipient of a Bib Gourmand in 2022 and 2023. “It really elevated the level of cuisine in Toronto and all the hungry, ambitious chefs are going for their own style to get it.”
The Michelin Guide, established in 1900, sets the global standard for quality dining by awarding one, two, or three stars to high-end restaurants that excel based on specific criteria. Toronto, among the 25 countries covered by the Guide, boasts one two-starred restaurant, 14 one-starred restaurants, 21 Bib Gourmand recipients and two Green Star restaurants.
Chong notes that receiving the Bib Gourmand significantly boosted customer demand at R&D. When he asks about guests’ reasons for choosing R&D, he often hears that they discovered the restaurant through the Michelin Guide app while exploring the city’s best dining options.
“It’s very validating for the team,” he acknowledges. “The Michelin Guide is one of those few things that is globally known, so to get recognized on that level is always great for the team.”
Justin Bella, the owner of BB’s Diner, mirrors the sentiment, acknowledging the recent Bib Gourmand designation was a “morale booster” for the staff.
“Whenever you get recognized within the industry for the hard work that you’ve put in, you can hold your head a little bit higher and that makes you much more proud. That goes into each dish, raising your self-standards.”
Chong adds that the award has not only boosted morale among the staff but has also had a positive impact on the customers.
“People that were previously loyal patrons feel like they were in the know before everyone else,” he says.
The Guide does more than just putting new restaurants on diners’ radars. While Vancouver has also introduced a Guide, Toronto was the first location in Canada, propelling it onto the international stage as a destination. This recognition is seen as long overdue by those in the industry.
“In the last five years, I’ve seen Toronto hospitality grow very, very fast,” explains Chef Daniele Corona, who was awarded one star for Don Alfonso 1890.
Chong shares a similar belief, stating that the general public and diners always seen Toronto as having exceptional food, but it hadn’t been adequately recognized in the industry. He acknowledges several restaurants that have played a crucial role in elevating Toronto as a dining destination.
“Alo was a significant pioneer in setting the tone for Toronto as a notable dining scene,” he says. “With the Michelin Guide’s arrival, chefs are now starting to recognize even more that the city is a great culinary destination.”
He suggests that it has been an “uphill battle” to become recognized as a destination because people are “unsure what Canadian cuisine is.”
“Michelin Guide typically goes to places that have their own cuisine — Spain, France, Japan and Asia all have their own cuisine and Canada was seen as a ‘jack of all trades, king of none,’” he explains. “But now I think we’ve really refined that with cooking techniques, and a lot of people are actually immigrating to Canada and bringing authentic cuisine.”
As a Filipino restaurant, BB’s, Bella appreciates that the Michelin Guide recognizes and highlights the diverse range of cuisines available in Toronto.
“The particularly unique aspect of Toronto is its multicultural component, and it’s really nice that we can showcase all these different cuisines that we’re fortunate to have in the city,” he says. Bella adds that there has been a significant increase in non-Filipino diners at BB’s. “Toronto is a world-class city, and this recognition is just another component that helps to prove that.”
Bella expresses excitement about the future of dining in Toronto, noting that the Michelin Guide’s presence helps “retain more of our homegrown talent.” Aspiring chefs no longer need to venture to other countries to receive Michelin-star recognition, contributing to the growth and recognition of culinary expertise within Toronto.
“Young talent in Toronto can invest their time locally, and it’s something that’s prevalent within the dining scene,” he explains. “Having gained experience at Michelin-recognized restaurants here will enable them to acquire quality culinary expertise that is recognized anywhere in the world.”
Chong himself was one such chef who grew up with the dream of being recognized by Michelin.
“I think any aspiring young chef who is ambitious has a dream to become a Michelin-starred chef, and for the longest time, I thought that dream would never come true because we live in Toronto,” he explains, adding that he gave up on the dream because he didn’t want to leave Toronto and his friends and family. “Opening up in a new city is always a risk — finding staff, the right ingredients, sourcing everything, understanding the demographics — there are way too many risks.”
On the flip side of the story, Corona grew up in Italy where he worked on teams in Michelin-starred restaurants. But, when he moved to Toronto, he thought he was giving up on the dream of becoming a recognized chef himself.
“I didn’t come to Toronto to follow the Michelin Guide but for sure, it’s the most important culinary guide,” he explains. “It’s a dream that came true for me in 2022.”
Corona says that he had the Michelin Guide in mind when opening his new restaurant. Following Michelin standards, DaNico introduces a new concept of Italian contemporary cuisine with Canadian and Asian influences.
“I always say that the Michelin star for a chef is like an Oscar for an actor,” he says. “It’s the biggest recognition that a person can achieve and that’s why I hope to one day be recognized again by the Guide.”
Similarly, now that Chong achieved his once-abandoned dream with Michelin recognition, the goal does not end there; instead, it encourages him to aim for even more in the future.
“As soon as we heard the Michelin Guide was coming, my partners and I started looking for other locations where we can open up a smaller, fine-dining, way more high-end restaurant to really go for that Michelin star,” he says.
Now, he has that location secured, with the plan for 51 Colborne (named for its address) to open by June (in time to make it onto next year’s Guide!) with a blind tasting menu showcasing modern Asian cuisine.
“To my knowledge we will be the first to really showcase Asian cuisine in a tasting menu form in Toronto,” he explains. “So, we’re trying to offer something that Toronto hasn’t had yet, and it will be really special.”
He says this is development is largely the result of the changing industry because of the Michelin Guide.
“It’s made a lot of chefs’ dreams come true,” he says. “Being in the industry is not an easy job, so finally getting the recognition from something as prestigious as a Michelin Guide is great for not just myself but the morale of the whole hospitality industry.”