Day Twenty-Eight: Wednesday November 28th, A Revolutionary And An Alligator Walk Into A Bar…

The day was a whirlwind of activity in the restaurant, with a great sense of urgency making bodies taut and minds focused. The security alarm and Rogers cable guys came to do installations; the glass men raised the vestibule around the front door; the textile artist, one of my newest servers, who is creating the partition between Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. dropped in for approval of his design; a young artist from OCAD heard about my need for graffiti on the McCaul Street wall and left with the job; the front share bar finally got done. Painters, electricians, tilers, handymen all doing their thing. Many got lost in the fray. (At one point a young woman wandered in to pay me for a sushi making class I didn’t even remember I was going to conduct in the coming week…)

Some hurdles as well. The company that was leasing us the entire Seoul Food Co. layout was only now- three days before opening- questioning our ability to pay; liquor license hold-up meant that wine and sake vendors were getting antsy about their ability to deliver the goods on time- we “might” get it tomorrow; we still had not received our merchant number from the credit card company; the menu was still not finished, so our Point of Sales data entry person, without a hint of irony, explained to me that if he didn’t get the information by 11:59pm tonight, we would be taking orders down on our hands on opening day.

Most of this happened before 10am.

I tried to remain focused on the menu, but was pulled away so many times I understood what a pig felt like in a sandwich. And speaking of great pulled pork sandwiches, (which is what lead me to fall in love with him) I was relieved to see my buddy Matt Basile, aka Fidel Gastro, arriving on the scene with his film crew.

Matt arrives

Alabama Yakitori

He is the popular self-trained chef at the center of a upcoming television series, called “Rebel Without A Kitchen” by the award-winning production company, General Purpose Pictures, set to launch next Spring. They came to film an episode about Matt teaching me how to make his signature yakitori, “Alabama Yakitori”, which will be on our Yakitori Top Chef menu. The flavours are big and bold, a lot like that intimidating dude at the bar who doesn’t mind telling you exactly what he thinks when you didn’t even ask him, but does so with surprising nuance and great control of language. Thick strips of bacon, wrapped around beef tenderloin carpaccio, with paprika, maple syrup, tons of seasoning and garnished with buttered corn. But all of it held together with a clear architecture. At $7.25 for a pair of skewers (4 big monsters), I knew we were going to have a tough time keeping pace with demand.

After the departure of Matt and the film crew, Rossy Earle arrived. I was surprised not to see her wearing her signature alligator boots or jacket. (She practically grew up on a close family friend’s alligator farm in Panama, which she visits almost every year.)Like the rest of us, she anticipated the impending Canadian winter (but will it ever come?) and alligators only thrive in tropical climates- or so we hope. There was another reason: she would be preparing alligator on our grill with her bestselling SupiCucu “Diablo Fuego” hot sauce. People who lack the culinary vocabulary will tell you that just about everything they can’t describe “tastes like chicken”. Well, allow me to join that group of inarticulate chompers. Alligator tastes like chicken, but very fresh and flavourful chicken thighs, with a slightly fresh-water fishy aftertaste. What raises it above the post-chicken, post-carp dimension is, of course, Rossy’s sauce. It has depth, an impossible balance between tropical fruit and a kick-in-the-ass, and great length. It stays with you long after the alligator skin has been made into your boots. (Poor alligators- nobody ever gives them enough credit for their mult-faceted purposes.)  Rossy’s signature yakitori is destined to be a classic. And if the trials and tribulations of my life have granted me even one nugget of wisdom, it is this: better to bite an alligator before it bites you…

Meanwhile, Chef Shin and I worked through the rest of the afternoon on our own dishes. It’s been almost two weeks since preparing my kimchi and it was almost at the perfect ripening stage in the fridge.

Kimchi 1 day old, 2 week old, 3 month old

The “night” (ie. 4am) finished with costing out all of our beverage offering. I was pleased about our 3oz soju infusions ($5.30). I started this at another restaurant three years ago after an inspired drinking experience in New York and it took off here in Toronto. I have since experimented with different ingredients and I feel that they make the introduction to Korea’s national spirit a bit more gentler.and think they will be appreciated by our guests.

Lime Leaf & Lime, Raspberry, Cucumber, Orange Soju Infusions

Good night, good morning…

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