Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris are serving up a little slice of Canadian history with every dish that comes out of the kitchen of their Toronto restaurant, Boralia. Taking a page from the history books — literally — the restaurant’s menu is filled with modern interpretations of historic dishes. Think pigeon pie circa 1611, a flaky meat-filled pastry served with roast squab breast and parsnip. Reaching even farther back in history is Boralia’s smoked mussels, a particularly dramatic dish dating back to 1605. The shellfish are served under a glass dome, which is lifted to reveal a cloud of pine-needle smoke and aromas reminiscent of old world fare.
Evelyn and Wayne’s extensive research and culinary creativity has lead to an outstanding menu inspired by early settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries and traditional Aboriginal dishes. We caught up with Evelyn and Wayne to hear about their signature dishes, their first food memories and which Canadian chefs excite them.
What’s your idea of happiness?
Wayne: Having dinner with my wife.
Evelyn: I did not make him say that . . . but I would say having dinner with my husband! And just hanging out at home with our new baby and our cat, Carl.
What’s your first memory of food?
Wayne: One of my first memories of food is going on walks with my parents and collecting periwinkles at an inlet where the Atlantic Ocean met the salt water lake behind my house. We would collect them, steam and eat them with white vinegar and garlic butter.
Evelyn: When I was two, my family moved to Hong Kong for five years. During that time we would go to the New Territories, one of the main regions of Hong Kong where the streets are lined with seafood vendors with live fish tanks. My mom would buy all kinds of seafood which we would take to one of the nearby restaurants for them to cook. My favourite was the boiled shrimp served with a sesame oil and soy dipping sauce.
Who was your cooking mentor? How did you first meet?
Wayne: My cooking mentor is Mark Filatow, the chef and owner of Waterfront Wines in Kelowna, B.C. Mark hired me when I moved out west from Nova Scotia in 2006. Over the next six years, I worked all the stations and ultimately became chef de cuisine. It was while working for Mark that I really got to work with the freshest produce from Okanagan and gained appreciation for working with fresh, local produce and cooking seasonal food and getting the freedom to experiment with new dishes.
Evelyn: My mentor is Daniel Patterson, chef and owner of Coi in San Francisco. He hired me in 2006 when I was really green and fresh out of culinary school. Through working for him, I really learned how to balance flavours and seasoning. He also has a very cerebral and conceptual approach to food and creating dishes that I found very inspiring.
What do you love to cook the most (your signature dish)?
Wayne: I love making the pigeon pie on our menu. It takes knife work for the filling, I love making pastry and it smells so good while it’s baking. Also, cooking the accompanying squab breast takes skill to make sure it stays moist.
Where do you see yourself in two years?
Wayne and Evelyn: Hopefully we’ll be doing the same thing as we are now! Boralia is only one year old.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Wayne: I’ve always been fascinated with woodworking, so I think I would have liked to work in carpentry or joinery, specifically on a boat because it’s the most challenging.
Evelyn: I would own a bookstore or a stationery shop. I love the organization in those kinds of shops, and I’d get to read all day.
What’s the least favourite thing about yourself?
Wayne: I wish I had more confidence in myself. I let criticism get to me too easily.
Evelyn: I’m not the most patient person. When I get something in my head I want to get it done right away and I’m very anxious until it’s done. Sometimes it would be nice to just let things happen more organically.
What was the last restaurant you dined at? What did you eat?
Wayne and Evelyn: Cava. The poached foie gras pintxo is magical.
Name a Canadian chef that is doing exciting things in food right now.
Wayne and Evelyn: Our friend Jack Chen of The Farmer’s Apprentice and Royal Dinette in Vancouver. He’s staged at so many great places around the world and is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
If you were any dish or ingredient in the world, what would you be?
Wayne: Wild mushroom. They taste great and they get to live in the forest. I love being in the forest.
Evelyn: Garlic. It makes everything taste better.
What is your favourite quote?
Wayne: “An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind.” Khalil Gibran