Alo: Behind the scenes at one of Canada's top restaurants
Find out what it takes to serve gourmet meals to a roomful of people every night
When Chef Patrick Kriss opened Alo restaurant, he knew he was taking a risk but he didn't care.
His restaurant would be located on the third floor of a building in Toronto's fashion district, above a body piercing studio. And there would be only one option for diners: A 10 course prix-fixe menu comprised of small, intricate dishes using ingredients many people would never have tasted before.
His gamble paid off. This year Alo was named the best restaurant in the nation by Canada's 100 Best Restaurants, a national magazine that annually releases a list of top restaurants voted on by more than 80 food critics, chefs and selected diners.
"I was always confident about what we were doing. It was just a matter of staying consistent and keep pushing what we intended to do here," says Kriss.
"So every day it was like, pound it into the chefs and cooks — okay guys it has to be better, has to be better, we have to get even more delicious food, better quality products."
CBC's The National spent 12 hours behind the scenes at Alo to see what it takes to serve one evening's gourmet dinner to 60 guests:
Behind the scenes at Alo
Watch The National's behind-the-scenes video (Runs 6:36)
In Photos: Alo restaurant
The name Alo is a latin word that means to cherish and to nurture, which owner and head chef and owner Patrick Kriss says is fitting given the restaurant's focus on hospitality.
However, he admits that wasn't the only factor in choosing the name. "I wanted a small word that started with an A, so alphabetically it was on the top of all the lists. So it was kind of strategic."
Alo Opened in 2015 in downtown Toronto's fashion district at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Ave. Besides being named at the top of the list of Canada 100 Best Restaurants, this year Alo also received the Relais & Chateaux désignation, an international distinction given to fewer than 100 of the word's restaurants.
Kriss is a Michelin-starred chef. Born in Scarborough, Ont., the George Brown College-trained chef returned to Toronto after working at Restaurant Daniel in New York City, and several Michelin-starred kitchens in France.
Alo serves a $115-per-person set tasting menu that's comprised of 10 courses. Reservations are only booked on the first Tuesday of each month.
Last month, Alo says it received 11,000 calls and was fully booked for the entire month within three hours.
The menu includes dishes featuring ingredients like 60-day aged beef ribeye, baby white shrimp and Uni from Japan.
A team of 38 staff works to put on one night's dinner service. This includes 12 chefs, 15 front-of-house staff, as well as dishwashers, bartenders, managers and a glass polisher.
In the hours before diners arrive, dozens of ingredients are prepared. More than 60 food and ingredient deliveries are typically made to the restaurant through the day.
Tables are positioned precisely.
And the entire staff reviews the guest list. They note names, food preferences and any occasion that diners have told the restaurant they're celebrating that evening.
"It's kind of like being in the war room, or like being in the dressing room before the game is about to begin," says Alo's sommelier Christopher Sealy.
The chefs at Alo work a tiring 15 hours a day. The cooks start preparations for dinner at 10 a.m. and wrap up their shift at 1:00 a.m. the next day.
Sous-chefs Rebekah Bruce, left, and Barbode Saudi work on "plating" one of the courses.
The cooking staff range from chefs with years of experience to cooks who have just graduated from cooking school.
"It's busy, it's tiring. but it's a love," says Alo's Chef de Cuisine, Nick Bentley. "It's more of a dedication to the craft than it is kinda like a job."
It can take up to three weeks to develop a new dish for Alo's menu.
The day CBC was there, staff members were working on a new bread that will eventually be served prior to dinner — it was the kitchen's 13th test for this particular bread recipe.
Helping with the taste test was sommelier Sealy, left, pictured here with chef Kriss. "It's just a question of getting feedback, whether it needs to be adjusted or tweaked," Sealy says.
"Because he's a sommelier, he has a good palette, I use him for his palette," adds Kriss. "He tastes everything, he has the best palette in the city."
On average, 64 guests dine each night at Alo.
The kitchen will send out 600 to 700 dishes.
Approximately 300 glasses of wine will be poured.
The last dinner guests are seated at 10 p.m., for a meal that typically lasts three hours.
When the last guests of the week are finished being served, the staff get together to have something to eat and unwind.
"Saturday nights we usually drink all the leftover wine … hang out, relax. Sometimes eat some food and get ready for next week," Kriss says.
Photos by Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez and Ivan Arsovski