At the table of chef Olivier Le Calvez this summer: Mexican dishes accessible to families

Christie Vuong/The Globe and Mail

Our Insider: Olivier Le Calvez, executive chef of the brand new Casa Madera, a trendy restaurant serving fine Mexican Mediterranean cuisine at 1 Hotel in Toronto.

At his table: Family portions of affordable Mexican dishes.

Summer entertainment style: Super laid back; no “fine dining” in sight. “Family and neighbors drop by around 2pm and we start with beer or tequila, then put on some Latin music and start cooking for a late lunch.”

Impossible to host without: The freshest ingredients. “I get up in the morning and go to the market with my children and I am inspired by what I see.”

Best Party Tip: “I never put garlic in guacamole, it’s too strong. My secret is the right amount of lime juice and serrano pepper, sometimes with a bit of coriander root, which has more flavor than the leaf.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez, executive chef of the new Casa Madera in Toronto, also co-founded the Casa Bonita brand of tortilla chips, now available in national grocery chains.Christie Vuong/The Globe and Mail

It all started with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Ten years ago, Olivier Le Calvez was teaching at Cordon Bleu Mexico when a former student called him to ask if he would be interested in opening a Mexican restaurant in Toronto. “I wasn’t looking to move at the time, so I joked that if they offered me $10 million, I would move,” he laughs. Although the salary didn’t quite match his dream, the opportunity proved right and he moved to Toronto with his wife, Andrea, and two children.

After an eight-year stint at El Catrin, in the city’s distillery district, Le Calvez is now executive chef of the brand new Casa Madera, the beachy-chic restaurant at 1 Hotel. “That’s the next step for me,” he says. “My cooking highlights the similarities between French and Mexican techniques and the way the product is used. I think the city is really ready for that now. In his pandemic free time, Le Calvez became an entrepreneur, co-founding the Casa Bonita brand of tortilla chips, now offered in national grocery chains. Earlier this year, he also became a proud Canadian citizen. Today, from his home in Toronto’s east end, Le Calvez loves to fire up the barbecue and entertain neighbors, family (his brother also lives nearby now) and friends for a late Mexican-style lunch.

“When I’m at home on deck in my apron, I’m cooking simple things and just making platters,” he says. “We spend the day enjoying each other’s company and sharing stories as the kids run around the cul de sac. It’s summer for me.

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“There’s a bit of pressure when I host, given what I do, but as long as I’m outside with people around me, I feel alive.”

Christie Vuong/The Globe and Mail

Green salad with lime vinaigrette

A light and leafy side dish that’s easy to prepare, a new summer staple.

Ingredients
  • 2 heads of Boston bibb lettuce
  • 1 cucumber
  • 5 or 6 pieces of chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • 1 lime, juice
  • 1 lemon, juice
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano leaves
  • Salt
Method
  1. Gently remove the lettuce leaves from the stem and place them in a bowl
  2. With the peeler slice lengthwise, make ribbons of cucumber, then cut to 2 inches long each
  3. Place the lettuce, cucumber, tarragon and chives in a bowl
  4. In another bowl, combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime and lemon juices, oregano and salt
  5. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad ingredients and toss gently

Christie Vuong/The Globe and Mail

Pacifico Style Grilled Fish with Side Vegetables

A meal that everyone will enjoy and is satisfying without being too filling or spicy.

Ingredients

  • 90ml olive oil, plus extra for brushing the fish
  • ½ bunch of cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 pinch of fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 whole European sea bass (600-800 g), butterfly-wrapped, head off
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 30g of salt
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • ½ bunch of asparagus
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 lime
  • 1 package of corn tortillas
  • 1 jar of salsa verde (optional)

Method

In a food processor or blender, combine the olive oil, cilantro, garlic, oregano and a pinch of salt and pepper; Blend until smooth

  1. Slice the vegetables and place them in a bowl or platter with the mixed marinade
  2. Preheat the barbecue to 450 F
  3. Brush the fish with olive oil and season with salt
  4. Put the fish on the grill with the skin side up for 4 minutes
  5. Now add the vegetables to the grill; cook until lightly charred
  6. Reduce heat of barbecue to medium; flip the fish and cook for another 5 minutes
  7. Remove the vegetables from the grill and place them on a wooden board; once slightly cooled, place in a serving bowl
  8. Remove fish from grill and finish with olive oil and salt; place on serving platter
  9. Heat tortilla on grill; 2 minutes on each side (place in a towel to maintain heat once cooked)
  10. Serve the fish with warm tortillas and finish with a drizzle of fresh lime and salsa verde, if desired

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