No celebrity chef here

The MasterChef Canada star dishes on his lat­est resto, Copetin

Bayview Post - - Food - by Ben Kaplan

Clau­dio Aprile dis­likes the term “celebrity chef,” a term he helped pop­u­lar­ize with his ground­break­ing molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy and his suave men­tor­ship on the hit tele­vi­sion show MasterChef Canada.

Aprile, 48, was born in Uruguay and lives with his wife, Heather, and chil­dren, Ai­den and Is­abel, in leafy Rich­mond Hill. He is one of the most pop­u­lar chefs in the coun­try, but that pop­u­lar­ity, he says, be­gan wear­ing him down. It led him to close his pop­u­lar restau­rant Ori­gin and reimag­ine him­self in the kitchen of Copetin, found on King Street. The name, chris­tened by his mother, means “com­mu­nity.”

“Ev­ery­one says, ‘ Life is short,’ but do­ing the same thing for an en­tire life­time can make that short life bor­ing,” says Aprile, caught in a mo­ment of re­flec­tion.

Some of his con­fi­dence comes from his north of Toronto refuge, where he has raised his chil­dren. At night, after a long day cook­ing or mak­ing TV, he says he en­joys look­ing out his win­dow and not see­ing a sin­gle con­do­minium build­ing twin­kle in his night sky.

“In the past, I de­vel­oped ev­ery­thing, and it would all trickle down and was gen­er­ated by me — that’s the way I did it back then, but this is a dif­fer­ent style, al­most like the Group of Seven,” he says. “Here [in Toronto], we all have ac­cess to a great can­vas. We’re all tak­ing risks, and what brings me hap­pi­ness is in­volv­ing ev­ery­one in the cre­ative process. It goes be­yond mon­e­tary gain.”

Mon­e­tary gain is an in­ter­est­ing topic for Aprile, who stands in con­trast to the 2017 vi­sion of what it means to be an in-de­mand chef. Hand­some and smooth, sen­si­tive and am­bi­tious, Aprile ap­pears to be cus­tom-made for the Las Ve­gas ex­pan­sions that have been mak­ing cooks into mil­lion­aires since Bobby Flay, Gor­don Ram­say and Wolf­gang Puck proved that kitchens could pro­vide as many fire­works as a Kiss con­cert.

But Aprile’s up­bring­ing was hard­scrab­ble, and he doesn’t see him­self as a star, a bold­face name. No sil­ver spoon, no stretch limou­sine. He sees him­self, and the vo­ca­tion of cook­ing, as be­ing the do­main of the work­ing woman or man.

“I was raised by a sin­gle mother and grew up quite poor. I didn’t know my dad, and we were chal­lenged. We strug­gled a lot, and for me, that’s part of my cook­ing ap­proach, the way I ap­proach food,” says Aprile. “I’ve worked in some of the high­est priced restau­rants in the world, in­clud­ing Toronto, where the av­er­age cheque could be $500 per per­son, and at the end of the night, I’d hop on my mo­tor­cy­cle and head home where, when I was a kid, our rent was $600 a month.”

In essence, it’s this any­one-canbe-great men­tal­ity that makes him so proud of his work on MasterChef

Canada. The show — in which home cooks are given an open cast­ing call to com­pete for Aprile, Michael Bonacini and Alvin Le­ung — has been praised for its egal­i­tar­ian premise.

“We don’t hu­mil­i­ate con­tes­tants. We cel­e­brate th­ese home cooks step­ping out of their ev­ery­day life to chase an idea or an as­pi­ra­tion. It’s the perfect pro­gram for me to be on, and it’s al­lowed me to grow as a per­son,” says Aprile. “It’s also hum­bling when you see a home cook pro­duce a dish that blows your mind. It shows you that you’re not so special, which is a good les­son.”

Aprile’s so­lil­o­quy rep­re­sents a re­turn to ba­sics that finds its way onto his new au­tumn menu at Copetin. Where he once felt com­pelled to use nine in­gre­di­ents, to­day he’s us­ing just four, and though — al­most more than any­one — he made his name on ex­u­ber­ant kitchen tech­niques in his molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy, to­day he wants the in­gre­di­ents, left alone, to do the work.

“Cook­ing isn’t an elite oc­cu­pa­tion — it’s in­cred­i­bly hard. The hours are long; you’re con­stantly burn­ing your­self. The whole idea of celebrity chef seems quite ridicu­lous,” says Aprile. “Many cooks come from homes or en­vi­ron­ments where they’re just be­low the poverty line, and in a restau­rant work­ing with in­gre­di­ents that are rare or beau­ti­ful, it’s an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic. But in the end, re­ally, it all comes down to the food.”

Copetin is a restau­rant with dif­fer­ent menus and dif­fer­ent ideas com­min­gling un­der Aprile’s roof. A joint project with Henry Wu, who he part­nered with at Senses, Copetin has a fine din­ing menu but also an out­door cantina, chef ’s tast­ing menu and a hap­pen­ing bar. The menu tilts to­ward South Amer­i­can, tostadas, chorizo and grilled oc­to­pus and has price points de­signed for in­clu­sion. Lo­cal and Canadian in­gre­di­ents are pri­or­i­tized: the duck comes from Que­bec, and the pump­kins, squash and root veg­eta­bles are from On­tario farms. Less is more on a 2017 plate from Clau­dio Aprile.

“In the past, I’ve been ac­cused of do­ing too much. Now what we do in the kitchen is take away el­e­ments,” he says, high­light­ing his duck, mar­i­nated for 24 hours in milk and spices and served with a Jerusalem ar­ti­choke and left alone on the plate.

“Some­one might look at the plate and be like, ‘Is that it?’ It takes con­fi­dence, when ideas are pre­sented that way, but it felt like this was ex­actly the kind of thing it was time to do.”

Much is chang­ing for Aprile in the kitchen, but his life at home is his es­cape.

“In Toronto, I’m the guy who owns Copetin and that guy who’s on MasterChef, but in Rich­mond Hill, I’m just me,” Aprile says. “I’m Ai­den and Is­abel’s dad.”

For chef Aprile, sim­pli­fy­ing is a new in­dul­gence

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