We caught up with Chef Falkner on everything from Korean sword fighting to her latest city crush: Toronto. Plus, the travel guilty pleasures of a world-renowned chef.
On What She’s Up To:
I’m working on an installation-theater experience. It’s food and fetish, a little taboo (but not what you’d expect), probably destined for NYC but maybe other cities too. I’m also working on a memoir and another cookbook pitch. I’m training for the NYC marathon and teaching Korean sword fighting/cooking classes. When you take a cooking class, you probably don’t expect the chef to have you doing mixed martial arts (read: swordfighting yoga) at the same time...
On Staying In Shape In The Kitchen:
I’m always trying to put that message out there, especially to younger cooks, because no one talks about it in culinary school or the restaurant business. The typical message to aspiring chefs is, “Hey, wanna work 12 hours a day, make no money, and maybe be on Top Chef one day?” But that’s not good enough. It’s a really physical job, and you need to take care of your body. You’re going to want to stay out and drink all night and be the first person in the kitchen the next day. You can do that for a good chunk of years, but at some point you go, “Oh my god, I don’t feel so good.” It takes a special kind of crazy adrenaline to MacGyver through a night on the line and still be able to do some kind of workout on your off time.
We have this giant country right above us that no one talks about. I’ve been all over Canada in the past few years for work. Everyone always talks about Montreal, which is a really amazing food city, but Toronto is so close to New York and has its own interesting food stuff happening.
I’ve discovered a couple ingredients up there that I can’t get in the states. My favorite is sea buckthorn, which grows across Canada and also in Scandinavia. It’s super high in vitamins A, C, and E, so it’s used in soaps and cosmetics, but it's also a tasty little super-fruit (kind of like a cross between a goji berry and a gooseberry with a very unique flavor). I first discovered them looking around the pantry on the set of Food Network Canada’s Sugar Showdown. I thought they were chickpeas! Toward the end of the show I threw some into the pasta I made for the crew. It was kind of like adding raisins and capers at the same time.
On Where To Eat:
Friends and I went several times to a restaurant called restaurant DaiLo, an Asian brasserie and snack bar run by the very talented Nick Liu. Try the sticky toffee pudding with sea buckthorn berries!
Toronto has its own bagel identity. Toronto bagels are very different than Montreal bagels: they’re smaller, sweeter, fluffier, and not as chewy. You can find them (as well as a ton of different smoked meats) at Caplansky’s.
Forno Cultura is definitely my kind of place. Whenever I have a few hours off, I run there for coffee. They make their own breads, sandwiches, and Roman-style pizza by the centimeter. You can have everything from beautiful fresh cookies to a glass of wine or a beer and peruse their shop, which sells gorgeous marmalades and olive oils. The kitchen is open, so you can watch them making everything. It’s cool without being over the top.
You have to really blow my mind for me to talk about chocolate, and SOMA Chocolatemaker does an amazing job. They grind their beans to couverture and make exceptional bars, gelato, and other confections. The quality is 100%.
Dandylion is relatively new, so good, and so smart. The menu has three appetizers, three entrees, and three desserts. Go with three people so you can try everything. It’s a tiny place run by a super talented chef.
Chef Lynn Crawford, who starred on Chopped Canada among other shows, has a restaurant called Ruby Watchco in an old watch factory. They’ve really got it down.
For a more modernist feel, go to Actinolite. It’s kind of like Take Root in Brooklyn, but all of the ingredients come from Ontario. They keep it simple and relatively inexpensive, and it works. The menu offers things like “smoked tuna and ramps,” or “apples, yogurt, almonds.” I love menus that just list three things and you have no idea what to expect.
On Her Next Must-Travel Destinations:
I’ve been so fortunate over the course of my career to get invited places I never thought I’d see, like Venezuela, where I spent two weeks studying cacao, or Alaska, where I fished for all five species of salmon and cooked them right there on the boat. We were surrounded by whales, bears, bald eagles, and the most beautifully pristine landscape you can imagine.
The only Asian country I’ve been to is Japan, so I’d love to go to Vietnam, Thailand, or anywhere in Southeast Asia. I’d love to go to Israel or India. I love finding new ingredients and discovering authenticity of flavors.
I also love being surprised when I go places where I’m not expecting to find great food. I found some really cool restaurants in Louisville while cooking at the Kentucky Derby last year. I think what’s really exciting in the United States right now is that all these cities have growing food scenes. Of course, many places are still dominated by Denny’s and KFC, but there are rapidly evolving regional cuisines in places like Florida, Kentucky, Atlanta, Savannah, and Austin.
On Travel Quirks & Guilty Pleasures:
I’m often working on shows like Sugar Showdown, where I have to taste five desserts a day. I guess you could say my guilty pleasure is making time to exercise. That, and watching movies on the plane.
Photos: Flickr/Rick Harris, @dailoto, @fornocultura, @caplanskys, @somachocolatemaker, @paychen, @actinoliterestaurant