Customer Spotlight: Carmen
We recently visited one of the best paella spots in Toronto. Proud ChefHero Customer Luis, Head Chef and Co-Owner of Carmen, gave us the scoop on the meaning behind the delicious round dish and creating an atmosphere that builds a sense of togetherness.
How did you get started in the food space?
[Luis] It’s a long story, but I came as an immigrant to Canada when I was 17 years old. I came alone with no family or friends. As a college student, I started working at a restaurant to make some money. Being alone in a country can be a scary thing. But I found that being a part of a restaurant meant that I was part of a team, I became part of a family.
It’s almost like being a pirate. When you’re cooking, there can be so much chaos and excitement and crazy things happening all around you. But you’re part of it. You are all on the same ship and you’re tackling the massive waves that come your way. I instantly fell in love with the kitchen and all of the people that came with it.
So, what got you into cooking Spanish cuisines?
[L] After college, I trained under Chef Mark McEwan and after 7/8 years of working for him, I took some time off. I moved into cooking Italian cuisines and it just didn’t hit close enough to home. I eventually met my now business partner, Veronica who was opening a Spanish restaurant called Torito’s at the time and was looking for a Chef. It was when this happened that I realized how close Spanish and Mexican cuisines are. From the spices and flavors to the culture that comes with these dishes.
When did Carmen come into the picture?
[L] I wanted to take the next step in my career. I wanted to showcase my Latin-American DNA into my dishes. Although Carmen falls a little more on the European style, we wanted to create a beautiful atmosphere where people can get together and feel a sense of connectedness - similar to how I felt during my travels throughout Europe.
And how did you build that connectedness at Carmen?
[L] When I think of food from a Latin/European perspective, I see food as a means of connection. Whereas in North America, food is seen more as a means for survival. It’s a very different perception.
Carmen was built upon the idea of the round dish and I believe that’s how we build that connected feeling. In my experience, I have found that circles bring us together. At Carmen, our dishes are meant to be shared. So, you come with a partner or a couple of friends and we bring out a big circular plate. When you have a plate in front of you that you all have to eat out of, we suddenly become equal and build a deeper connection with one another. I think that’s where we excel. Not only do we have delicious food, but we provide diners with a human experience.
When it comes to your staff, do you feel that connectedness as well?
[L] Absolutely! I would say that the culture I have created in the kitchen is one of the things I am most proud of about Carmen, with cooks that I am even more proud of. If you take a look at the chefs in my kitchen, they’re not all people who come from extensive culinary backgrounds. Rather, I look for chefs who are passionate. Some of my chefs have less than a year of experience but they’re individuals who I have complete trust in because they love what they’re doing and they’re good at it too.
I know that connecting and giving back to the community is very important to you. Can you explain some of the things you’ve done for the local community?
[L] We’ve done a lot of events with many different NGO’s such as The Stop and Food Share. I have a special connection to both because they give individuals with low resources access to produce that is grown locally. It also gives them the chance to learn what to do with these foods as well.
A lot of people don’t necessarily know how to cook, especially with less common ingredients like lentils. Cooking them can seem daunting. So instead, people will turn to eat at fast-food joints like Pizza Pizza or KFC because they feel like that’s the cheaper, easier option. Not only is it more expensive, but it’s less healthy too. So, I go to local schools to teach children how to cook certain ingredients, such as lentils, beets, beans, and other ingredients that are readily available to everyone, because I want to make sure that if they’re put into a position where they have to cook for themselves, they feel like they have options.
This is a really beautiful space. How did you decide to locate Carmen here?
[L] I’ve always dreamed of having a place that I could look at the streetcar passing by. I know people in Toronto hate them, but there are very few cities in the world with streetcars and I think it’s part of the wonderful heritage of this city.
Why did you choose to partner with ChefHero?
[L] One of the reasons that I liked ChefHero at the very beginning was the idea of saving on supply costs, as well as saving the cost of my time as a Chef. At the end of every night, I would spend about twenty minutes to do all of my ordering. Now with the application, I’ve shaved back five minutes per night. I can do it from my office, my kitchen, really anywhere.
Having that hour back per week means that I have more time to spend with my family and friends, doing something productive, reading a book. Really anything. When I add that up for the year, that’s a lot of time I get back.
On the other side of things, I’m saving on my supplies but also on paper and printing. It sounds silly but it makes a big difference, and I feel like my restaurant is a more sustainable and eco-friendly because of how much we have cut back on paper and ink by making the switch to ChefHero.