McKewan serves tradition with a twist
As the owner of the busy Bymark Restaurant in Toronto's financial centre, as well as of the North 44 Restaurant across the downtown core, Chef/owner Mark McKewan has achieved considerable success' after nearly four decades in the trenches.
As the owner of the busy Bymark Restaurant in Toronto’s financial centre, as well as of the North 44 Restaurant across the downtown core, Chef/owner Mark McKewan has achieved considerable success–after nearly four decades in the trenches.
Much dishwater has passed beneath the proverbial bridge since McKewan first took sink duty at Mindy’s Wine Cellar in Buffalo, including a stay with George Brown College’s culinary campus and a posting as the youngest executive chef with the Sutton Hotel. While a career in the hospitality industry was never a question for McKewan, he gladly sacrificed the lion’s share of his salary to do what he is doing today: his own thing.
Now, Food Network Canada has caught up with his rising star and McKewan has become a pantry staple with The Heat, a high-octane capture of his catering escapades. A luxury boutique hotel is in the planning phase. Food retail opportunities are knocking at the door. Things are progressing. McKewan has never been happier–or busier–and it shows both on and off the plate.
Stratospheric as his accomplishments may be, McKewan remains firmly grounded.
“I’ve spent what feels like a lifetime building this team,” said McKewan who is in constant transit daily and counts on his talented crew to carry across his vision. “The goal is far simpler these days. Region and tradition are coming on strong and have been for some time. Art on a plate is not what people are after.”
He is quick to add, though, that presentation is still important. After decades of opulent ingredients and extravagant detail, McKewan is convinced that people are returning to source, seeking out good, heartwarming food.
“Simple concepts work better,” he explained. “This is great news whether you are dining out or entertaining. People have so much anxiety about hosting and preparing a meal for company. They shouldn’t. The meal should be a graceful part of the evening, but should not dominate the entire affair.”
Veering away from overdone dishes, McKewan has returned to his roots, revisiting classics, infusing them with a fresh perspective, and focusing on the fundamentals. This is an approach shared by his fellow Food Network star, Mario Batali.
“Batali’s real. I admire him more than almost all the others. We’ve been working our way back to regional, traditional cuisine,” said McKewan. “The story is coming around again to the ingredients.”
Presentation is still important, but finding a new spin on a grilled cheese sandwich gives McKewan and his clientele a lot of satisfaction. “I’m more enthused about the food I discovered 20 years ago than ever.”
Forging and focusing his restaurants with such food-friendly philosophy, far more than any one set menu or culinary style, allows McKewan to remain fixed on only one aspect: the basics.
“Whether cooking in a professional kitchen or at home for guests, all cooks need to nail the basics,” he said. “Cooking is not necessarily easy, but it can be a real pleasure.”