'The biscuits are a vessel': Toronto's Beast restaurant owner puts his inspiration into baked goods
Beast is located at 96 Tecumseth St.
Ten years ago, iconic restaurants like The Black Hoof, Marben, Delux, Harbord Room, Pizzeria Libretto paved the way for a new way of thinking about food.
They ditched white table clothes and tasting menus for approachable dining like farm-to-table and family-style cooking.
In a way the move was inspired by the post-recession boom in the U.S. Fine dining restaurants across the country were closing, and chefs were slimming down in favour of a rustic look and simplified cooking.
Toronto has had an international food scene for decades, but prior to The Black Hoof, your options were mom and pop places or white grand table cloth settings.
JK Wine Bar was unlike other restaurants in the city. There was an air of conviviality and excitement about the space that was dressed in warm wood and had a signature wall of preserves that looked like an art piece.
For the eight years it was open it was an iconic establishment, churning out one great cook after another that has gone on to create some of the best restaurants in the city. Name a chef, and there will be very few degrees of separation to JK Wine Bar.
This is where I met Scott Vivian. Vivian was in his mid-20s and worked as a saucier at the restaurant. Prior to that he spent a considerable amount of time cooking through the U.S.
"I've always known I wanted to be a chef. So I spent close to 15 years cooking through various cities from Portland to Atlanta," said Vivian.
When chef Jamie Kennedy announced that he would close the wine bar, Vivian took the helm with some help from investors.
"It worked for a little while, and then it didn't. We had creative differences," he said.
Then he got a call from fellow chef Bertrand Alépée who said his lease was up on Tecumseth Street for his restaurant Amuse-Bouche.
Right after it closed in 2010, Vivian took the address and opened the doors to Beast.
"We are an ingredient-focused restaurant, where we try to work with the best local producers as much as possible."
In my opinion there are four core spokes in Vivian's cooking, which he weaves through his menus.
"My love for cooking came from my mom, who is Indian, and my dad — Italian. That's where it all started."
Vivian constantly pulls from this inspiration, whether it's an Indian-inspired sauce, or fresh pasta that he makes as a special.
He is committed to local ingredients, with his vegetables and meats coming from nearby farms. Vivian also pulls inspiration from his time spent cooking through the U.S.
Then there are the biscuits. Vivian is the only restaurant I know that has an entire section on his brunch menu dedicated to biscuits. His former partner Rachelle Cadwell came up with the recipe for biscuits which he uses as a canvas,
"The biscuits are a vessel. In it I stuff all the inspiration I have had in my life: Italian, Indian, the farm to table, and the Americana," he said.
On the brunch menu there are upwards of eight biscuit sandwiches.
Even though Beast is considered a meat-focused restaurant, Vivian's marinara sandwich is a highlight if you want to skip meat. He layers on a thick house-made marinara sauce, salsa verde, and a pesto-like sauce. It's hearty and fresh with a nuttiness.
The smoked brisket biscuit is one of my personal favourites. Vivian pulls from Memphis-style barbecue, thick cuts of house-made brisket is laced with a vinegar and ketchup-based barbecue sauce and Thai chili for a kick.
If you like smokey flavoured meat sandwiches then this will hit the right notes.
If you're averse to smoked meats, try the peameal bacon version instead topped with a fried egg. It's one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city.
Vivian has a reputation for making really good fried chicken, in this version he sandwiches it between a biscuit with pimento cheese and covers it with a pork sausage gravy.
Crunchy chicken on the outside with moist meat on the inside, and a rich creamy sauce which you can mop up with the biscuits. All brought together by the heat of the pimento cheese.
If I had to choose just one sandwich, it is it the beastwich.