After working at various restaurants around Toronto and abroad, chef Jon Vettraino is dropping anchor. The talented chef, who learned the ins and outs of seafood early in his career under chef Martha Wright, is taking up the daunting task of running his own restaurant, The Commodore. Situated in Toronto’s trendy west end, the light and bright restaurant serves up Italian influenced dishes with lots of seafood.
Vettraino is passionate about using the best seasonal Canadian ingredients and creating contrasts with taste and texture. His Cape Breton shrimp on toast contrasts nutty flavours from the brown butter sauce with salty anchovies and savoury garlic and herbs. The taste and aroma are a treat for the senses. The dishes are as visually pleasing as they are delicious and served up on what looks to be Nonna’s fine china.
Vettraino’s passion for food and his creativity is evident across the menu. We caught up with him to talk about his new restaurant, his earliest food memories and who he thinks is the most impressive chef in the city.
What’s your idea of happiness?
Vettraino : My idea of happiness is to one day own a cottage where I can spend weeks at a time enjoying the good life with my wife and son.
What’s your first memory of food?
Vettraino: My first memory is probably my Croatian babysitter’s fried smelts. She’d make big seafood dinners and I’d sit in diapers and taste everything while she cooked.
Who was your cooking mentor? How did you first meet?
Vettraino: The chef that influenced me the most was Martha Wright. At the time Starfish had recently made James Chatto’s Top 10 Best list and I was impressed by that. Martha has a fantastic resume and she has really good ideas. She cooks seasonally, light and fresh. I’d been cooking for a few years before Starfish but my time there made me realize I had a lot to learn and unlearn.
What do you love to cook the most (your signature dish)?
Vettraino: I think I enjoy baking bread the most. It’s the most satisfying. It’s so simple yet incredibly complex. It’s so accessible that people have forgotten how much work goes into it.
As for a signature dish, it’s hard to say. We make a Vietnamese-style duck confit crepe which is my favorite at the moment. We make a super crispy crepe out of tapioca and rice flour and coconut cream. Then we top it with medallions of duck confit, QP mayo, peanuts, chilies, mint and scallions. It’s fun to cook and the response has been really positive.
Where do you see yourself in 2 years?
Vettraino: In two years I hope to have fine tuned the Commodore to the point that it’s become a Toronto institution.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I think if I wasn’t a chef I’d be working in film. Doing what exactly, I could never quite figure out.
What’s the least favourite thing about yourself?
Vettraino: My horrendous memory might be my least favorite thing about myself. That, and my gluttonous appetite. The appetite is a blessing and a curse. My inner fat kid has a pretty great palate.
What was the last restaurant you dined at? What did you eat?
Vettraino: The last restaurant I dined at was Campagnolo. We had Craig’s classic burrata with roasted grapes and the Amatriciana which are always excellent.
Name a Canadian chef that is doing exciting things in food right now.
Vettraino: I’d have to say Patrick Kriss is cooking the most impressive food in the city. It’s hard to speak for Canada because I haven’t eaten outside of Toronto in two years. Alo is the total package. The staff, front and back are full of all stars. The food is flawless. The technique, presentation and flavour combinations are at a level that can compete with any Michelin starred restaurant I’ve eaten at.
If you were any dish or ingredient in the world, what would you be?
Vettraino: I’d be an off cut like braised beef cheeks. They’re a tough, poor man’s cut. Before you try them you can’t imagine they’d be any good, but then you try them and they’re nothing like you expected. They’re tender, flavourful and become one of your best meal experiences.
What is your favourite quote?
Vettraino: “Treat it like it’s yours, and someday it will be.” – Thomas Keller