Chef Antonio Park Brings “Relaxed Opulence” To Toronto Skyline With New Restaurant—AP

Tucked away down a discreet hallway next to a bustling movie theatre in Toronto’s posh Yorkville neighborhood lies an elevator with only one option: the 51st floor. A few seconds later and you’ve arrived at AP, the latest restaurant from celebrity chef Antonio Park. With grey marble tables, warm woods and plush, velvet chairs, the new dining venue is a sophisticated retreat from the busy streets below. The black theme of the dimly lit space enables the unobstructed views of Toronto to take center stage. It’s the kind of luxurious setting you expect to see from a fine-dining restaurant with plenty of accolades. But the only stars chef Park is chasing are the ones in the sky. “I’m way too old to lead a life of a chef that’s trying to get the stars,” Park says over the phone.

At 46-years-old, the chef isn’t as old as he makes himself out to be. But in chef years, he’s had a lifetime of experience. Growing up in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, the Korean chef’s love for cooking was born in his home garden, where, at the age of seven, he began picking fresh onion and cucumber with his Mom. “I used to help my mom make kimchee and empanadas,” Park says, describing his multi-cultural upbringing.

At 15, his family moved to Montreal, Canada where he got his first restaurant job working as a dishwasher at a Chinese buffet. He would spend the next ten years working in kitchens in Montreal, Toronto and New York, before attending culinary school in Japan. With a sharpened technique, chef Park returned to North America and quickly rose him to culinary stardom, starring as a judge on Food Network Canada’s Chopped and opening his first restaurant, Park, in Montreal.

AP is the latest to join him growing empire of restaurants between Toronto, Montreal and Seoul. With 15 restaurants under his belt, chef Park says the concept behind AP is to be a restaurant that comes from his heart. “After 30 years, I want to do something that I love,” Park tells me. That love for chef Park is combining his Japanese training with his South American and Korean roots, and his Canadian home. The result is inventive dishes that break the rules of what Japanese cuisine can look like.

While nigiri is traditionally a mound of rice topped with sushi, here, chef Park swaps the fish for beef, drizzled with soy sauce sweetened with maple syrup (a Quebecois staple) and topped with chimichurri (a popular Argentinian sauce). The South American twist on Japanese sushi is also found in the ‘Tokyo-Style Temaki’ where, instead of the nori shaped like a cone, the seaweed is made into a mini-taco. Traditional handroll fillings like spicy tuna and spicy salmon get an upgrade with choices like bluefin tuna, Ora King salmon, Canadian lobster and A5 wagyu. Similarly, the ‘Chef’s Selection’ of sushi reimagines ‘Surf & Turf’ with maki rolls that combines shrimp tempura with Japanese A5 wagyu.

Park’s Korean roots are evident in dishes like the ‘Kimchee Fried Rice’ served with a yakiniku black bean sauce and ‘Korean Rice Cakes’ (known as ‘tteokbokki’ in Korea) with gochujang (the popular Korean hot pepper paste). But even the traditional Korean dishes defy expectations. “Being Korean, people think kimchi can only be made with napa cabbage and radish,” chef Park explains. Here, chef Park turns beets and brussel sprouts into kimchee, to demonstrate that kimchee is as much a cooking process as it is the name of a popular Korean accompaniment.

Mains accentuate proteins with worldly flavors like scallops marinated in brown butter, topped with fried seaweed and served with a tom yum sauce, and braised beef short ribs with kimchee and wild mushrooms. The drinks menu is equally as creative with cocktails like the ‘Kemuri’—mezcal with Lillet Blanc, dry vermouth and green chartreuse—and the ‘Raichi Sour,’ which elevates the lightness of Junmai Ginjo sake with lychee and egg whites.

At first glance, it would be easy to describe the menu at AP as fusion. But the chef is quick to contest that label. “Usually when you do fusion food, you visit somewhere and you bring those flavors home and combine them with your cuisine,” says Park, highlighting that the difference here is that he is from the cultures he cooks. “I’m just putting who I am on the plate,” Park says. “My name is Antonio, I’m a Latino at heart but I’m Korean-blooded and my culinary mind is Japanese.”

But more than represent the cuisines of Park’s background, the chef’s greatest priority is showcasing the work of his purveyors. While the rice, wasabi and organic soy sauce comes from Japan, most of the vegetation is sourced locally from Ontario. Park specifically chose Ora King salmon from New Zealand for its reputation as the leading sustainable salmon in the world, but the rest of his seafood he says can easily be called “sea-to-table,” because he has a private truck drive 16 hours from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to deliver fresh seafood. “We [the cooks] don’t do much,” says Park. “The real hard work is the fisherman and the farmers.”

It’s this humility that keeps chef Park grounded and focused. While many celebrity chefs get wrapped up in the fame, Park says he tries to remove the ego, another influence he tells me comes from his Latin roots. “I always tell my chefs and sous chefs, it doesn’t matter how good you are, success means being open-minded,” Park says. “If someone asks you if you know something, say you don’t know, that’s how they teach you.”

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