Sara Waxman goes off the (slightly) beaten path and finds the new foodie world according to The Drake
I arrive at the Drake Commissary in the Junction Triangle with the highest of expectations, and yet I see that I have underestimated its uber-coolness. Since day one, Jeff Stober’s Drake has had its finger on the pulse. Sarah Lyons, the Director of Food and Beverage at The Drake explains what it is about the Drake culture that makes it so attractive, unique and hip.
Sarah Lyons: Our guests tell us they appreciate our unique efforts to display a variety of interests, everywhere, whether it’s art, music, beverages or food, we have experts in these creative fields who are encouraged to be creative and do what they do best.
SW: Wherever the eye falls, there is an interesting view. If you just run in to grab something at the takeout counter, say a duck confit sandwich or a freekeh, quinoa and broccoli salad, take a minute, look around, you’ll see something that may enlighten you for the rest of the day. The video loop of short vignettes made by local artists is fascinating. The curated art pieces and mundane objects are thought provoking and witty. And everywhere, there is colour, colour, colour. It seems to me that you are creating a social community for chefs, bakers and artists; a symposium centred around a core of food and drink.
SL: Definitely. The more we live in the space, the more the space is telling us what it is. Every day more people come in, and it’s like a town square. This 5,000-sq.-ft. warehouse space, designed by +tongtong is divided by décor into unique seating areas. At lunch and dinner, nearby offices empty into the Commissary. Some come with their children who press their noses against the glass of our production bakery to watch our baking team; some are on their computers, maybe writing the next great Canadian novel.
Our larder holds smoked fish, herring, duck paté, charcuterie, cured salmon—all the items you might want to have for the weekend, along with a loaf of buckwheat sourdough. You can pick up items at our takeout counter: a beef brisket sandwich, or Truffled Bianca Pizza with new potatoes, Tallegio and a host of greens. Or you can sit at a table, at the bar, or around a coffee table.
SW: Drake Catering is something new. You cater weddings, meetings and parties. What distinguishes you?
SL: We realize there is a real appetite for catering, and it was time to take the whole package of the Drake and make it available to people outside of our walls. We have programming we can use to create a visual display or musical act at any event. Everything that is available inside our walls is available outside our walls.
SW: So this is taking the show on the road—live!
SL: Yes. We are known for our showstopper stations. At our charcuterie station, we bring our vintage slicer, and do hand slicing. We bring a pasta extruder to the pasta station along with a big wheel of Parmesan. We have built beautiful mobile bars, and people have come to know us as leaders in bar cocktails. Gord Hanah, our cocktail ambassador, has a fantastic array of bartending skills.
SW: Tell me about your classes.
SL: We have Macramé classes where artisans bring their looms. Henderson Brewing, who brews our beer, has given a brewer’s talk. We have public speaking classes, pizza-making classes, guest chefs, and a Pakistani cooking class, for example. We want to be a hub in the neighbourhood and share the space.
SW: The conceptualizer in the Commissary is Executive Chef Ted Corrado. He has many stamps in his passport. I see his international ideas in your menu. The Commissary services all the Drake properties with Jonas Grupiljonas as chef. At lunch I eat a salad of heirloom cucumber ceviche made with a variety of crisp cucumbers unknown to me until today, and beef brisket, house smoked, thickly cut and spicy. This is not your mother’s brisket, but you’ll wish it were.
SL: There’s more to this neighbourhood than it appears. We are a cultural incubator; a hub of ideas that become reality and make their way into the world—through our catering. Ideas are born from other ideas.