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Chef McEwan's celeb status

With three of Toronto's top restaurants, Mark McEwan is the closest thing Canada has to a rock-star chef and restaurateur.

by: Claire Sibonney | 27 Feb 2008

Dubbed Canada's "golden boy" of the food industry for his steadily expanding empire, as well as curly blond locks, McEwan recently turned 50 but shows no signs of slowing down.

At his latest restaurant, One, diners are encouraged to share multiple "deconstructed" courses.

The menu, featuring plates such as pork belly poutine with aged Quebec cheddar, soft scrambled eggs with duck confit and BBQ rib ravioli with seared scallops, exemplifies McEwan's classic Mediterranean cuisine "with a North American angle" and an occasional splash of Asian inspiration.

Q: Describe the inspiration behind One:
A: "You have this great sophisticated family-style meal between you and it's just so conducive to conversation and relaxation when you're eating, rather than the over-orchestrated, over-presented art on a plate, which I can't eat anymore. I don't like it anymore, I run when I see it. I absolutely run. When I see someone putting perfect dots on a plate I say, 'I don't want that plate.'"

Q: How has the concept been received?
A: "We had a few bumps and grinds in the beginning with people who just didn't get it. People were saying 'I don't want to share my food,' so we said 'Then don't share it. We'll put it in front of you and you eat it.' But now it's funny because everyone who's there understands it."

Q: What stresses you out?
A: "If you have major timing issues on a meal, if you're late on a meal, major stress. And if for any reason the quality isn't right, then I'm crazy... You can't gloss it over you can't garnish the plate so much that no one will notice. If it's wrong, it's wrong. And that's what you want avoid at any cost. You can survive anything else, you can't survive that."

Q: What do you think of the whole celebrity-chef phenomenon?
A: "I think it's pretty funny. I'm amazed at the power of television and I don't take it personally that I'm something special. I'm fortunate to be a part of it and I laugh that my mother's friends think you're a celebrity and people ask for your autograph and photographs with you."

Q: What made you decide to become a chef?
A: "I sort of fell into the business. A lot of people fall into the food business. High school, I had a car, had a gas tank, needed money to put into it, I got a job at a restaurant. And I was washing pots and pans and dishes. I guess I was 16. Then they needed a cook in the kitchen and they threw me an apron and brought me in and I was on the line, not knowing what I was doing, just working with the chef and helping out. I did that for about a year, just part time. I was making a dollar sixty-five an hour."

Q: What do you like to cook for yourself?
A: "I like slow-braising things at the cottage. Do a rabbit, do a veal shank, make a veal stew. I have a garden it's sort of a gated English garden where I do vegetables in the summertime."

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