Chef Claudio Aprile is focused, passionate, committed, driven and one of the most creative & innovative chefs in Toronto. Aprile has excelled in every conceivable aspect of the food business. He has over 30 years experience in the food industry and has travelled and worked globally, which has been very influential to him. It shows and shines in the cultural diversity of the dishes he serves in his restaurants.
Born in Uraguay, but was raised in Canada, he quickly became a favourite chef and restaurant owner in Toronto with his first critically acclaimed restaurant Colburne Lane ( 2007-2013). Which was rated as one of the best restaurants in the world. Origin on King St. in Toronto, opened in 2010. Aprile opened his second location in Liberty village in 2012, but was closed shortly after in 2013 to open Origin North in Bayview village.
Aprile is currently the chef and owner of Origin and Origin North both located in Toronto.
Know for his role as celebrity Masterchef judge on CTV, as well as other television projects, Aprile knows a thing or two about food. Claudio practices a hands on approach to healthy cooking and has brought some stunning, colourful, fresh, super healthy, and mouth watering recipes to the table. Aprile is a believer in eating fresh, local, seasonal foods along with luxurious tidbits the worlds cuisine has to offer.
When you meet Claudio, you notice his energy immediately. It’s very obvious that he resonates positivity, vigour, passion and commitment. The commitment that Aprile brings to his work life is also apparent in his personal life, with his beautiful wife and two children.
I caught up with Claudio to discuss what inspires him, and what keeps him motivated day to day in one of the toughest industries out there today. In this interview he discusses his inspiration behind his restaurants, you’ll find out the reason world famous Colburne Lane shut down, he also shares some encouraging health tips regarding food, cooking, and nutrition.
This exclusive interview with world renewed chef and restaurant owner is to hopefully inspire you to get off your butt and get you in the kitchen.A special thanks goes out to Aprile for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to share his thoughts on life, food and cooking. I hope you enjoy reading the interview.
L-When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
C-When I was five, I told my mother that I was going to be a chef, not that I waned to be one. She still remembers that day. It’s really something that has always been a really big part of my life. It’s something that I knew I wanted to do. I don’t really have any fallbacks, its something that I wanted to excel at and focus my energies on. So from a very young age, I knew.
L-Can you talk about the people who have inspired you. Who is your inspiration when it comes to cooking?
C-So many different inspirations, it’s difficult to pinpoint one person. It’s almost like buying knives. I don’t believe in buying a knife set, I don’t think that one knife set can be all things to everyone, nor can one person be an inspiration for all things cooking. So I’ve had many different people have played an integral role in my life.
From my mother obviously, my grandmother, from great chefs that I have worked under like Mark McEwan…Chefs like Ferran Adria at ElBulli has been a very big influence on my cooking styles.
Frankie Solarik from bar chef in Toronto. He’s a bartender but I get tremendous inspiration from how much time he puts into his craft and how dedicated he is. He’s actually a big inspiration for me.
Marco Pierre White who I think has inspired an entire generation of chefs including myself. There’s so many.
L-How do you go from being a chef, to currently owning 2 successful restaurants and being a Masterchef Canada judge. What keeps you motivated?
C-What pushes me is, and it really sounds simple but life is so short, and I don’t want to look back with regrets. I’m not concerned about failure. It’s interesting, and I think failure is a fear that many people have, and it’s crippling at times. When you fear the process of failure, it could be quite paralizing. It could impede you from taking risks, taking challenges. I would rather do something and fail at it then not do it at all.
I don’t know, its a good question, how do you go from being a cook, to owing two restaurants and being on a successful TV show…I think you just have to do, you know people talk a lot, but really it’s about taking action on what your aspirations are, what your dreams are. Instead of living the life through vicariously through others, you should live a life through yourself, focus on what makes you happy, that’s the main thing.
I have to say owning 2 restaurants is a source of happiness for me. I really do enjoy the opportunities that it presents for my staff. The t.v. show really came out of left field for me, I never expected to be on a t.v. show, I actually veered from television and the idea of celebrity chefs. I have always been very suspicious of the idea of celebrity chefs. Not to say I consider myself one, I really don’t, I think at the end of the day I’m still very at my core, a very simple person. I just enjoy good food and producing a great product, that’s really what my main motivator is.
L-What was your inspiration behind Origin and Origin North?
C-The first Origin really was born through what I call the failed tomato sessions that happened at my first restaurant which was called Colburne Lane. We spent an entire summer trying to figure out a really crafty intelligent innovate way to present tomatoes. By the time we figured out the idea, tomato season was finished. I responded to my team and asked “why can’t we just cook?” “Why do we have to always be so intellectual with our approaches of cooking?” Why can’t we just take raw ingredients, and let them be… let them be natural?
Then, I looked interestingly at the fashion world, and I quickly became aware that many fashion designers have their high end brands of couture, and in addition to that they have their ready to wear collection. Origin is my ready to wear selection if I were a fashion designer. It’s just really about ingredients that are at the height of the season, that we haven’t done a lot to them. A great example of that is our beet salad, which is one whole beet. That dish is actually a very important dish for me, that is where the idea really started to take shape, in that dish.
Prior to Origin we would take the beet, and we would reconstruct it, deconstruct it, we would break it up and turned it into something that didn’t look familiar, or even taste familiar. I tired of that kind of approach to cooking, and Origin is really the opposite of it. It’s really about letting ingredients just be natural. That’s where that came from.
L-When designing a dish for your restaurant. What factors do you take into account?
C-One of the main components for me is texture. I look at the textural component of the dish. and I ask the questions, very simple questions: “Am I honouring the dish?” That’s one of the criteria, that or the ingredient rather.
You can never produce something that is more close to perfection at nature. Nature has already done that for you. For example, if you look at a raspberry closely it’s completely something you should marvel at. It is encapsulation within encapsulation. There little tiny cells, within cells, I find that fascinating.
Especially when I’ve spent so much time trying to figure that out through the usage of technology and modern methods. As I mature, I find a lot more satisfaction in looking more closely at nature and what it has to offer, opposed to trying to alter it and manipulate it.
L-What’s your favourite ingredient to work with and why?
C- Vegetables are one of my favourite ingredients to work with. They take a lot more imagination than cooking a piece of protein or a piece of meat. I find it a lot more rewarding to look at a tomato for example, and do something interesting with that opposed to piece of meat. I just find it more interesting, more challenging then cooking proteins.
L- What’s your favourite unique food combinations?
C-One of my knee jerk reactions to cooking is that I always have to add acidity, and salt. But I don’t necessarily get my acidity or salt from lemons for example or sodium. You can obtain sodium through different herbs for example. They will elevate flavour in a way you can actually eliminate or reduce the amount of salt your using by incorporating more herbs in your foods.
That is something I am very aware of and that I use in my cooking. Acidity for example from citrus fruits, I do play around with a lot, I do incorporate it into my food. And that’s what gives my food a very large flavour profile. I don’t like cream or butter. I don’t eat a lot of cream or butter. And I don’t cook with a lot of cream or butter. I just find it flattens the dish. I don’t find the food to be as vibrant when you’re cooking with a lot of fats. My food is very clean, very fresh, and again I use a lot of herbs, and different citruses to elevate the flavour.
L- Is there a fruit or vegetable that you consider over rated or under rated?
C-No I don’t. I don’t think any of them are over rated or under rated. I don’t look at food that way. Something that really turns my stomach is when I see people wasting food. In some of the cooking competitions where they are throwing food around in the kitchen, I find that really awkward and difficult to look at. I look at all ingredients really at the same level of respect. I don’t think that a lobster is superior to a carrot. I think they are both equal.
L-What’s the wildest thing you have ever eaten?
C-The first time I discovered Budda Hands, I saw it, I was just mesmerized by it. Have you ever seen budda hands?
L- Nope what are they?
C- It’s a citrus fruit but it looks like a hand. The first time I saw it, I did a double take.
I think my problem is I started cooking when I was so young. I started when I was fourteen years old, I’ll never say the words that I’ve seen it all, but I have seen a lot. So it’s difficult for me to be I guess to be shocked by something. What I really find interesting is the the flavour combinations, and really what chefs are doing with the combinations, the creative aspect of cooking that’s what I find very exciting and stimulating. Not so much the ingredients, but what people are doing with common ingredients.
L- Congrats on Masterchef Canada Season 2! You must be so excited. How does it feel to be a judge on one of the most watched reality television shows in Canada?
C-Im really proud of the show, I think the show is resonating with some very young people. Children for example are watching the show, and I think it’s inspiring them to cook and to learn about ingredients. And to hopefully look towards fresh food opposed to crap, you know pre-packaged food, which is obviously inspiring kids to cook more at home, and get excited about food. To take some risks in the kitchen, and get involved when their parents are cooking. I see this happening with friends that watch the show, with people that I meet, and it’s really taking kids off the couch and into the kitchen.
L-Is there anything that you learned from the show that you can apply to how you run your restaurant today?
C-Something that I wasn’t prepared for was that I spend a great deal of my life teaching and leading other people, my cooks, my chefs in my restaurants. It was a huge change for me to be in a position where I was being led and I was learning a new language on television , on top of and being told what to do and when to do it. I found that really liberating to be honest with you.
L-What advice would you give to aspiring chefs today?
C-To learn the basics, to cook as much as possible. And to ask yourself a simple question: Is this something that I am passionate about that I really enjoy?
And if the answer is no, then you should really switch careers because it’s one of the toughest careers. The hours are very demanding, they are very long. It’s not the kind of career that you want to coast through, you really have to apply yourself. You want to look at the job as the type of career you would pay to do opposed to be paid to do.
L-What are some tips that could encourage people to cook at home more often?
C-If you have children, I think it’s really critical to take your kids with you when you go shopping. But not necessarily take them to one of the large box grocery stores. You can really inspire a young person, by taking your children to farmers markets, to taking them to an actual farm and showing them where food comes from, and how it’s prepared, and the amount of effort that goes into growing a tomato or a carrot or a chicken for example. I think that it shouldn’t be an option, it’s part of parenting.
L-I agree, I have been taking my little girl to farms since the age of 2, and one day there was a sign they put above the pig pen that said ‘the pigs went to the market’. So of course, she asked me what that meant. I decided that it was the right time to explain to her where pork, and other meat products come from. She was shocked, sad, and angry all at the same time. But I wasn’t about to tell her that meat comes from a grocery store. I think it’s sad that some people cover up this issue with their kids. And that some kids actually think food comes from a grocery store or that some kids don’t even recognize common everyday vegetables. In my opinion, it’s really important that kids know where their food comes from. They should be taught to eat food from the earth, rather than food from a box.
C-Yeah, I think we have this food illiterate culture happening where people don’t understand where food comes from. They don’t have an understanding of nutrition, and so many of our illnesses are food borne illnesses, and they can be prevented. A lot of the, can be prevented with proper nutrition, proper diet, going to the core, going to the source. Understanding where the food starts, where it comes from, that’s how I think about it. I’m not trying to come across as a food snob, as I’m the furthest from that. But knowing where food comes from is critical, and I think we need to start when children are very young. That’s how I look at it.
L-Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
C- I don’t know, Im learning to live more in the now, and I’m not looking back or accelerating too much into the future. I’m learning to really enjoy the present. That’s something that a good friend of mine is teaching me right now.
I think we live in a culture where there’s so much pressure on what’s next, and I think that there is something to be said about enjoying the moment, enjoying the day you know seizing the day, opposed to always thinking about tomorrow. What’s your 5 year plan, what’s your 10 year plan…….to be happy. Happiness that’s really the main thing, happiness may come in the form of 2 restaurants, it may come in the form of 20, as long as I’m happy, I’m going to be there. That’s the plan.
L– Great plan. Happiness is something that is crucial and needs to be constant in our lives in order to thrive. So that’s quite a great outlook you have for the next five years. I think a lot of us spend too much time and energy on planning the future, when we should really be focusing on what’s going on right now in the moment. The power of now is so important, as tomorrow is never promised to us. So today is really all we have.
Thank-you so much Claudio, much gratitude for your time and your insights.
C- Always a pleasure.