PARK’S PLACE

Mon­treal celeb chef An­to­nio Park is a culi­nary match for Drake at Pick 6ix

Richmond Hill Post - - Contents - By Ben Ka­plan

Drake teams with An­to­nio Park on Pick 6ix

It’s safe to say that what­ever Drake does, well, it turns to gold. Records? Check. Mu­sic fest? Check. Cloth­ing la­bel? Check. Nick­name for Toronto? Check. So when news emerged that the city’s num­ber one am­bas­sador was in on a new resto — Pick 6ix — well, folks got pretty keyed up. But the thing about celeb-driven restau­rants is that the kitchens need to ac­tu­ally pull their weight. En­ter chef An­to­nio Park.

Chef Park is a celebrity in his own right. Both ex­ec­u­tive chef and Pick 6ix co-owner, along with Aubrey “Drake” Gra­ham head of se­cu­rity Nes­sel “Chubbs” Beezer (Drake is af­fil­i­ated, but not a coowner), Park is a Mon­treal legend whose culi­nary roots dig deep into South Amer­i­can and Korean cook­ing. Park is all over Mon­treal’s culi­nary map, own­ing an epony­mous restau­rant in the chichi West­mount nabe, in ad­di­tion to seven other es­tab­lish­ments in town. But for Pick 6ix, found at 33 Yonge St., chef Park has up­rooted him­self part-time to come to Toronto to prep the menu, train the kitchen staff and, at least 50 per cent of the time, ac­tu­ally make the food.

So how did this heav­enly matchup even come about?

“Drake and I got to know each other through friends,” says Park. “He’s a great guy, su­per fa­mous and all of that but also cool and downto-earth and ob­vi­ously re­ally suc­cess­ful.”

“It’s fun to work with him: high en­ergy, and you couldn’t ask for a bet­ter part­ner,” says Park, not­ing Drake nat­u­rally brings in plenty of at­ten­tion, not to men­tion a taste for great­ness on the plate. “He ac­tu­ally has a re­ally good palate,” Park says of the star.

“Still, at the end of the day, it’s the food at Pick 6ix that has me ex­cited,” Park adds. “I fi­nally have a chance to show Toronto what I’ve got.”

What chef Park has got is a colour­ful back­ground that helps el­e­vate his cook­ing into a league of its own. Born in Seoul to Korean par­ents and raised in both Argentina and Brazil, the budding chef grew up cook­ing be­side his mom. She of­ten cooked “fam­ily lunches” for 100 em­ploy­ees at the Buenos Aires ware­house where his par­ents’ com­pany Laven­de­ria made acid-washed jeans. He fell in love with cook­ing while watch­ing and help­ing his mother work.

“Back then, it was very cheap labour, but I re­mem­ber those times as happy,” says Park, “I’m not talk­ing about high-end gas­tron­omy. I’m talk­ing about food for the soul.”

He cooked at his mother’s arm, sometimes peel­ing 100 cloves of gar­lic, sometimes chop­ping 200 onions. Even­tu­ally the Park fam­ily moved to Mon­treal, and later Park did his culi­nary train­ing in Ja­pan, but South Amer­i­can cui­sine had more than made its mark.

“Grilled fish, em­panadas, chimichurri sauce slathered on all our grilled meat. For us — my fa­ther’s not here any­more, but my mother still is — this isn’t just food. This is a way of life.”

That way of life has brought Park ac­claim quickly, and his celebrity fans in­clude ev­ery­one from Katy Perry to Mas­simo Bot­tura. In Mon­treal, Park’s best friend was hockey great P. K. Sub­ban, who would eat at Park resto twice a day, ev­ery day. To­day, Sub­ban plays on the Nashville Preda­tors, and Park goes to visit him at least once a month, bring­ing his buddy easy-toprep meals.

“Can you imag­ine eating at the same place ev­ery day and not miss­ing a meal?” asks Park.

“The two of us re­ally get on, and now, when I’m in Nashville, I make him vac­uum-packed soups,” says Park. “The guy eats so much that each soup gets an en­tire cor­nish hen!”

Cor­nish hen may or may not ap­pear on the Pick 6ix menu, but Park prom­ises things like grilled oc­to­pus salad, wagyu tataki and sashimi. There will be Kobe beef. Park is the first chef in the coun­try cer­ti­fied to sell the real stuff. He’ll also serve dishes that show­case his unique blend of Ja­panese, Korean and South Amer­i­can food, and he paints quite the pic­ture of the fare.

“Close your eyes and imag­ine on your taste buds a beau­ti­ful Ja­panese Kobe grilled steak that’s crusty on one side, and medium rare — al­most blue — then seared with a sashimi torch, braised with a Cana­dian maple syrup soy sauce and all of that topped with a chimichurri sauce,” says Park. “No one in Toronto, no one in the world, is mak­ing this kind of food!”

Park is ex­cited, as he should be. Prior to of­fi­cially open­ing (they’re gun­ning for mid-Fe­bru­ary), Pick 6ix has al­ready hosted Drake on two oc­ca­sions, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Du­rant pop­ping by. A ca­sual cham­pagne wall, pri­vate VIP en­trance and plenty of Rémy Martin Louis XIII co­gnac are some of the 178-seat resto’s wow-fac­tor fea­tures, as well as a 100-per­son pa­tio that will be a hot ticket. Oh, and there will be TVs; af­ter all, it’s a sports bar. Lunch and din­ner will be served, with a meal cost­ing around $50. It goes without say­ing that Pick 6ix is poised to hit the city like a new song by Drake.

But don’t get Park started on celebrity. Even though he’s a judge on the hit show Chopped Canada and a friend of Jen­nifer Lopez, Park says he isn’t in it for the In­sta­gram snaps. For chef, Pick 6ix is all about bring­ing his per­sonal brand of soul food to Toronto and cel­e­brat­ing the di­verse roots of his culi­nary life.

“Drake’s a big per­son­al­ity, and I know big per­son­al­i­ties. I hope the at­ten­tion and his con­nec­tions will al­low me to grow,” says Park.

“How­ever, I’m a chef. What I do is cook­ing, and that’s what I love,” he says. “When the su­per­stars come into the restau­rant, I’m in the kitchen. And yeah, I’ll come out for a pho­to­graph. But that’s not me. I’m me when I’m be­hind the stove.”

Mon­treal chef An­to­nio Park has up­rooted him­self part-time to part­ner with Drake

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