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I Got Taste

SUSUR LEE is INSPIRED in TORONTO

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Lee

601 King Street West

Restaurant

When I meet Susur Lee, it’s on the opening night of TIFF and he’s preparing to host a party in his flagship restaurant, Lee, on King West. I’m a bit startled that he’s the one speaking to me for an interview. After all, this is arguably Toronto’s most famous chef, considered to be Canada’s answer to Jamie Oliver, thanks to Lee’s recent foray into making over the menus in Toronto schools. I had expected a manager or PR representative to do the interview in his place, so when he emerges onto the patio where I’m waiting and offers me a coffee, I’m caught by surprise. But you could say that this accessibility is the very reason Susur Lee is Toronto’s most recognizable chef. There’s no front for this man. He is a Torontonian through-and-through, and despite having opened restaurants around the globe, in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, he always returns home. “Toronto is my temple,” he tells me. “It’s my home.” He says the city’s multicultural nature—and ability to offer up ingredients from around the globe—speaks to his cooking style, which is an unorthodox fusion of French and Asian influences. For Susur Lee, Toronto represents the journey he has taken both in life and in cooking. “No matter what, I love this city,” he says. “Love this city. I’ve travelled all over the world and lived in so many different places, and this city is comfortable. It’s modern and civilized, educated, cool, fashionable, clean, respectful—and has great food.”

Lee Restaurant - King Blue Condos

Within that great food scene, Lee Restaurant is aiming to offer something different, something that balances trend and comfort in a way that mirrors the city he loves so much. “It doesn’t feel uptight,” he says of his restaurant. “It feels very casual. You can spend time with your friends and talk here." It’s a recipe that’s worked for Susur Lee for the past 14 years, as he’s become a fixture in the King West neighbourhood. As we chat, he waves at a truck driver who calls out the window to us while idling at the King and Portland intersection. “I’m like the mayor,” he jokes. I ask Susur Lee what dishes he would recommend to a first-time diner. He tells me the Singaporean-style slaw is a must. “I could be a religious leader for Singaporean slaw,” he says.

Singaporean slaw - Lee - King Blue Condos

I would tell you that he’s joking, but I witness his regulars' lust for slaw a few weeks later, when my sister and I head to Lee Restaurant to sample his recommendations. Next to us, two diners tell us they're total slaw devotees. So much so, that tonight they had been planning on ordering in a pizza—until they were hit with a slaw craving. The slaw is made up of 20 ingredients—and while I can’t remember them all, the servers at Lee certainly can. They rhyme them off—everything from daikon to cilantro to pickled ginger—as they toss the delicately piled display into a colourful salad. It’s sweet and tangy, and well worth its reputation as Lee’s signature dish. green curry chicken - Lee - King Blue Condos Lee’s other big recommendation is the Top Chef green curry chicken, for which he won the highest score ever on the Bravo TV show Top Chef: Masters. The creation consists of balls of ground chicken, slightly crisped on the outside, moist on the inside, drizzled in green curry sauce and spiced tomato jam and garnished with grilled chunks of pineapple sprinkled with hot spice. watermelon salad - Lee - King Blue Condos But for me, one of the tastiest examples of culinary creativity comes from Lee’s watermelon salad. Cubed watermelon pieces are topped with charred jalapenos, sticky-sweet barbecue sauce, feta cheese, mint and balsamic dressing; the spiciness of the jalapenos compliments the sweetness of the watermelon, while the creaminess of the feta soothes your tongue from the spice. We wash it all down with a couple of Lee’s signature cocktails—the saketini for me (a mix of plum sake, Belvedere vodka and yuzu fruit) and the mango-champagne bellini for my sister. cocktails - Lee - King Blue Condos For years, Lee Restaurant has been a gem of King West, and not just for its dishes, but for the well-earned reputation of its star chef. And even with his culinary empire expanding around the globe and the city (he recently opened Bent, on Dundas West, with his sons), King West is Lee’s preferred piece of Toronto. He gestures around us, to the people passing by on the sidewalk and the businesses that make up the neighbourhood, such as the Bier Markt across the street, KiWe next door, and the Thompson Hotel around the corner. “If you like to work hard, and you like to have a good lifestyle, this is the party.”var 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