CITY SCENE

Toronto the fussy

There’s a crisis in the kitchens of the city’s restaurants

CHERYL HAWKES February 23 1981
CITY SCENE

Toronto the fussy

There’s a crisis in the kitchens of the city’s restaurants

CHERYL HAWKES February 23 1981

Toronto the fussy

There’s a crisis in the kitchens of the city’s restaurants

CITY SCENE

Torontonians love lunch. They get hired over it, fired over it, courted, married and divorced over it. They do it standing up, sitting down and occasionally kneeling on cushions.

To accommodate this passion for eating out (the Toronto Restaurant and Food Services Association notes a whopping 40 per cent of the consumer’s food dollar is now being spent dining out), Toronto is giving birth to about 20 new licensed restaurants each month.

There are now about 5,500 eateries in the city, offering everything from French food to fast food.

Staffing them is usually not a problem, but staffing them properly is. Every new spot takes time to iron out kinks, from the maître d’ who nervously bites his nails to waiters who aren’t around when you need them. “Good people know they’re in great demand,” says Irene Matyas, manager of the elegant new Pearcy House restaurant. “There’s a shakedown period of a month or so and they wait until the dust settles before making a commitment.” But in the“hungry city,’’the real crisis is in the kitchen. A diminished dollar, tighter immigration laws and competitive wages at home mean the great chefs of Europe are staying there, drying up a traditional source of skilled labor and forcing technical schools here to crank out homegrown chefs at a rate no one anticipated five years ago. Toronto, reflecting the worst of a province-wide problem, gobbles up each new graduating class, burps softly and asks for

more. “If we had looked at this situation 15 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess today,” says Brian Cooper of George Brown College’s hospitality division.

The need for experienced restaurant help is so great that efforts to ease the shortage are currently under way. Led by restaurateur John Arena, who smelled trouble as long as nine years ago, a small group of hoteliers and restaurant owners has been lobbying hard at Queen’s Park for additional funds to

beef up training in the hospitality industry. “Three years ago,” says Cooper, “George Brown accepted 12 out of 15 applicants to its culinary management course. This year we enrolled 100 out of about 500 applications.” But the technical schools and community colleges can only move so fast. “It’s a war,” says Tony Roldan, executive chef at the Sutton Place and Bristol Place hotels. “The labor costs are getting very, very high. As the supply of good help becomes smaller, the price goes up.” Frank Faigaux, food and beverage director of the Windsor Arms restaurant group, notes: “It’s like when they expanded the NHL and then created the WHA. The quality of hockey went down.” Even Arena, who can afford to pay the best at his exclusive Winston’s, recently watched a former employee lure away one of his cooks. “Good friends in this business are becoming bad friends. When someone steals your chef, you look at him differently.”

But if there’s trouble in the kitchen, Toronto’s lunch bunch is hardly aware of it. After all, if one place doesn’t pan out, there’s always another new spot.

CHERYL HAWKES