When you’re lucky enough to go to a summer camp that offers horseback riding, most kids can’t wait to saddle up. Not Chef Romain Avril.
“When you’re young, the things that really draw you are kind of like a magnet — you just want to go there. For me that was the kitchen.”
Chef Avril’s work in kitchens ever since has proven similarly magnetic, most recently for patrons who venture up 16 stories to Lavelle’s dining room on King St. West in Toronto. The restaurant, which celebrated its first anniversary in early summer, has become nearly as famous for having one of the largest rooftop pools in North America as it has for a mix of cuisine Chef Avril says is more ambitious than anything he’s ever attempted.
“This is the first venue where I’ve really expressed myself in the menu,” he says, referencing a recent selection that included everything from grilled soy-marinated yellowfin tuna to heritage pork tenderloin choucroute. “I can show my feelings, what I have in my head. In my previous experience I had to fit within a theme.”
Chef Avril came to Lavelle from La Societe, the Bloor St. West hotspot where he focused almost entirely on French cuisine. That might seem only natural for someone who studied at the University of Angers, but Chef Avril says his palette is far more cosmopolitan and eclectic — much like the city he now calls home.
“At the end of the day French cuisine is the base of every cuisine, but there are variations,” he explains. “When I went to university, I actually did a degree in French and Chinese culinary skills, which means I’ve always had a different approach in the kitchen, with a fusion between Thai and Asian ingredients.”
Chef Avril is well aware, however, that staying hidden in the back is no longer an option for a chef who is building a loyal following and a thriving career. He’s already an ambassador for Nespresso (“I’ve been drinking it since I was 12 years old,” he admits) and more recently he was named Executive Chef for high-end appliance maker Monogram.
“They represent what I represent, which is loving your craft, and knowing that everything you do has to be perfect. It has to be 100 percent,” he says of Monogram. “They’re looking to really step up their game to demonstrate the quality their appliances can offer, and the best way is to have a chef cooking with them.”
Then there is Chef Avril’s look, from the sweep of his brown hair to the tattoos that adorn his arms. Achieving a personal brand is a fine line, he says — much like putting in just the right ingredients to make the perfect meal.
“The way I dress, the way I cut my hair — I can tell it is appealing to the Canadian market” he says. “If it works out in my favour that’s great, but it’s not like I’m wearing tattoos because I want to be cool. They mean something to me. Every single one has meaning. You can’t just force it.”
That’s true. But as any successful chef knows, it’s always worth taking the time to prepare.
Photographer & Creative Director: Rai Allen / @raiallen
Producer & Editorial Director: Steven Branco / @chiefswaggerofficer
Wardrobe Styling: Alanna Dussiamme and Sara Afshar
Wardrobe courtesy of: GotStyle, Christopher Bates, Kyle Roberts and Chef Works (available in US & Canada)
Makeup: Leanne Herman
Hair: Daniel Fortunato of Langill Management