When I started planning my trip to Toronto getting good Caribbean food was top priority. Toronto is known for their rich Caribbean culture with the influences of Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and many other island nations. Toronto even has its own “Little Jamaica”. So I knew some good jerk chicken wouldn’t be hard to find.
But I never imagined that some of the best Caribbean food I ever had would come from a Chinese-jamaican fusion restaurant. Owned by chef Craig Wong a Chinese-Canadian who sharpened his culinary skills working under the world renowned chefs like Alain Ducasse and Hetson Blumental. Patois is the kind of spot where you begin planning you next meal before finish what you’ve just ordered. As I was polishing off their jerk chicken chow mein I was thinking “next time I’m getting the oxtails and jerk pork belly.” All of the dishes we tried were amazing but the standout ones for me were the Prosperity Lobster and Beef & Broccoli Steak Tartare. Their Curry Goat Doubles are really insane as well. The shredded goat along with the chickpea masala come together and hit you with that authentic island flavor.
I headed to Patois with Ryan of “Eat Famous”. We got there before the restaurant opened its doors for the day so it was empty at first, but within the first 30 minutes it was packed.
Those who got there later in the evening had to wait by the bar until a table opened up. I’m sure my table made matters worse given that we ordered enough food to feed a small village. While we sat down to eat, Chef Craig took the time to answer questions about where he’s from and walk us through each dish.
Hi Craig! Thanks for having me at your restaurant. So how did you get in to cooking?
One of the first things about cooking that intrigued me was when my grandmother was using Jamaican ingredients to cook Chinese dishes and using Chinese ingredients to make Jamaican dishes. Food was an avenue I could pursue where I could continually seek knowledge yet never completely master and it brings me comfort to continually have something to work towards.
What was it like training in Paris?
I was really lucky to work for Alain Ducasse. He was the chef that I admired most when I first began researching French cuisine. His kitchen was run with military like precision and discipline. It formed the basis of a lot of the techniques that I use today.
What part of Jamaica is your family from?
My dads side of the family is from Kingston, and my moms side of the family is from Ocho Rios.
Did you spend a lot of time in Jamaica growing up?
I tried to visit one to two times a year, but the first trip I remember that really opened my eyes to Jamaica was when I was seven.
Tell me how a dish like your “Prosperity Lobster” comes about?
Prosperity jerk lobster was inspired by late night trips to Chinatown with fellow chefs, as well as trips to Jamaica, where my uncle would buy an entire fisherman’s catch. The fisherman would start a fire and stuff the fresh fish with butter, jerk paste and water crackers and would basically make a jerk stuffing inside the fish.
You do a really good job at combining two worlds, yet somehow staying true to their origins. How do you make sure the original flavors don’t get lost in the new ideas?
Our cuisine is always flavor first. The ideas and presentation are always second to deliciousness. The majority of our dishes are rooted in tradition, and I try to find new ways to present them without compromising the original idea.
There are a few dishes on the menu that come from countries in the Caribbean other than Jamaica how did that come about?
I am a fan of food first, and I adore delicious dishes from any culture. I’ve also been blessed to work with very talented chefs, like our very own chef mat Agostini, who has brought a ton of Trinidadian cuisine knowledge to our kitchen.
I probably ate more of your jerk chicken chow mein than any other time I had chow mein. How do you know a recipe like that will work so well?
I worked on that recipe for three days straight and cooked approximately 40-50 different batches until I was satisfied with that recipe. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into our food as we fully develop these ideas and methodically track results.
You mention listen to a lot of Hip Hop music growing up. We’re you into reggae as well? If so who are some of your favorite bands?
My parents would always be spinning Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh records and my mom was actually in a band with a bunch of her friends, they would reggaefy modern pop songs by groups like n sync etc.
How is cooking/owning a restaurant in Toronto different from any other city?
We’ve traveled to many cities that have amazing restaurants but not many cities can compare to the vast breadth of Toronto restaurants and I feel lucky to be surrounded by such a diverse group of chefs and restaurateurs.
You have a restaurant in Dubai?
Yes we started Ting Irie, we are the first Jamaican restaurant in Dubai.
Tell me about the new restaurant your opening upstairs from Patois.
We will be starting a champagne and oyster bar above patois in the very near future.