Suzanne Barr

Suzanne Barr is a chef with a presence in the community as well as the kitchen. An advocate for food security, people of colour, LGBTQ communities and workers’ rights, she is a force for good in Toronto where her comforting Afro-Caribbean cooking has won her plenty of fans. Her food at venues such as True True Diner and Saturday Dinette celebrated her Jamaican roots as well as deep interests in local ingredients and social justice.

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An Introduction to Toronto

Toronto is a city that’s made up of very individual areas that have their own vibe and culture. In each neighbourhood, there’s always a place that seems to perfectly embody that culture. For example, if you’re hanging in the east end, don’t miss Farside, a retro throw-back bar with craft beer and cocktails. Also in the east end is The Comrade which serves wicked cocktails and a mean burger. If you’re hitting up midtown, be sure to stop by Thai restaurant Kiin and Tuscan restaurant Tutti Matti: both female- led and operated restaurants that are equally adored by the industry. In the west end, make sure to pass through cosy restaurant Chantecler for French small plates and great cocktails. If you’re out for an intimate date head to Ufficio for delicious, modern Italian food.

Timeless French Cooking

I love chef Mariam Echeverria’s ability to create timeless dishes. Her understanding of French food is so apparent in her loving treatment of flavours, textures, and techniques. 

At her restaurant Greta Solomon, the menu changes frequently but her chicken liver mousse is outstanding. The sublime creaminess of the texture is so on point: it’s such a memorable experience from the first to the last bite.

A French Neighbourhood Bistro

My husband and I go to Union Restaurant to celebrate special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays. It was our neighbourhood spot when we first moved to Toronto together. I immediately connected with chef Teo Paul. I love the restaurant’s French-bistro vibes, but what really stands out is the service. Every time we go it feels so comfortable and familiar. The staff are genuinely warm and so attentive. They really go out of their way to make every visit so memorable. It helps that the cocktails are absolutely fantastic, too.

A Wine Bar With Special Memories

Speaking of my husband, Archive Wine Bar is where he proposed. We were visiting Toronto after having just spent time travelling through France where we fully immersed ourselves in the country’s wine culture. It was totally by chance that we stumbled on Archive. Feeling inspired from our time in France we thought it was only right to stop in for a glass of wine. We drank and reminisced about our trip and fantasised about moving to Toronto together for a fresh start. Right then, like something out of a ro-mom, between the charcuterie and the vegetable course, he got down on one knee and proposed. At first, I thought he was recovering some food he had dropped on the floor, but when I looked down, there he was, holding out his family’s heirloom ring. I knew right then that this was it.

Where I’d Take Visiting Chef Friends

When chef friends come to visit, I take them to Marben restaurant. Chef Chris Locke is cooking incredible food. The menu is super sustainable and only uses local ingredients. I also love to take visitors to Bar Mordeci. It has a really cool, retro vibe and seriously good cocktails. To finish off the night, we might drop into Rhum Corner for matured Caribbean rum.

Unwinding With Friends

If it’s been a long week and I want to head out with some friends to relax, I might head to Le Swan in the west end for French bistro classics and a great wine selection; or maybe Ascari Enoteca in the east end for pasta and Italian small plates, before finishing the night with cocktails at Chez Nous Wine Bar

A Crowd-Pleasing Thai Local

Sala Modern Thai Kitchen and Bar is my local. It’s a casual Thai place down the street from my house. It’s such an easy crowd-pleaser for everyone in my family. My son’s favourite is the curry chicken nuggets: he eats an entire serving himself. They’re perfectly crisp and not spicy. It also has meal kits which are handy because I’m not particularly adept at cooking Thai food. It’s a great way to get my Thai fix when the cravings hit. It’s also a great way to support the restaurant during the pandemic. It doesn’t get more local than this, so we’ve got to get behind them and do what we can.

For The Love (And Preparation) of Curry

I love curry. Of course, it always has to be eaten with rice. It’s the one dish I miss when I’m away travelling. I crave the spices, the sweetness of the coconut milk. For me, it’s the taste of my family home. Ultimately, when I’m thinking of curry, I’m really longing for my dad’s cooking. If you want to make homemade curry, I definitely recommend paying a visit to BJ Supermarket in Little India on Gerrard street: it has all the best spices to make a fantastic curry.

How Some of Toronto’s Chefs Adapted During Covid

Caribbean pop-up Yawd and Afro-Caribbean pop-up Nyam are operated by some of the most talented chefs in the city. It’s super impressive to see how these chefs are finding new ways to feed their customers and communities. From meal kits and chef-prepared meals to produce and ingredient boxes, these ideas have allowed the chefs to keep their businesses grinding and thriving.

Putting People Before Profit

Egyptian café Maha’s is one of my all-time favourites. It’s run and operated by an incredible family team. Unfortunately, one of the staff had Covid symptoms which saw the venue shut its doors immediately. It was great to see them act so swiftly and put the well-being of staff and guests first, and business second. I know how difficult and challenging it can be when you’re forced to close: unfortunately, we had no other option but to permanently close our restaurant, True True Diner. It was heartbreaking. This industry has been cut at the root, but now it’s time to remember the love and passion that brought us into the industry in the first place, and look to the future and forge ahead. I would also love to give a shout out to Food Share Toronto and Cater Toronto for their devoted work and commitment to feeding countless families and communities during the pandemic. Both of these organizations were there for people when they needed it most. 

Guide last updated March 2021

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