NYC culinary superstar Ian Kapitan back in T.O. to open new resto with Brad Moore

Chef Ian Kapitan is a big deal in New York. But, he learned the craft in Toronto working alongside some of the finest chefs this city has produced including Susur Lee, Massimo Capra and Greg Couillard. Now, after more than two decades working south of the border, the conquering hero is returning to his Hogtown roots with a bold new project dubbed Recess slated to open in February, 2015.

Born in Kitchener, Kapitan moved to the big city to pursue his love of photography, but ended up as a house music DJ who also got his start in cooking by working the line at The Rivoli on Queen West. Long story short, Kapitan moves to New York City to pursue music, gets back into the kitchen and in short order, ahem, becomes a whizbang culinary superstar famous for tooling around in a Harley with a pig on his back.

While pursuing his music career, Kapitan would often travel to the United States, and when he was in New York City he met his future (and no longer) wife and that pulled him away from Toronto.

“That pulled me away from Toronto, so when I was 25 I moved down to the States permanently,” says Kapitan. “I was doing house music production and Deejaying Save the Robots (super-cool underground club in the Lower East Village) in New York City on Saturday nights.”

Despite living in Toronto, nothing prepared Kapitan for the culture shock of New York City.

“It was so completely different,” he says. “This was right before Giuliani, Times Square hadn’t changed, the Lower East Side was still dangerous. I moved to Brooklyn and then the Lower East Side when the projects were still really rough.”

Kapitan recalls sitting on the roof of his building at 2 a.m. eating fried chicken and watching the fights on the streets below.

“But it is such a dynamic city,” he says. “I went down there this wide-eyed kid, I mean I came from Toronto but this was a whole other world.”

When the music scene started dying off, Kapitan decided to go back into the kitchen, where he found that his former mentors from Toronto held some weight, but because of immigration issues he was often working for free in a lot of places to get experience before being hired on. Once inside, what he found was an entirely different level of operation.

“It was just the intensity, even like cleaning mushrooms,” he explains. “There was such finesse. I basically had to relearn everything. Some of these guys were just unbelievable.”

In New York, Kapitan worked under such culinary heavyweights as David Bouley and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

“It definitely rounded me as a person and turned me into the chef I am today,” says Kapitan. ”I found my cuisine and I was really getting a lot more traditional with roots in Europe, France, Italy, Asia. There was so much going on in New York, restaurants opening up constantly and everybody was fighting for the top and there was a lot of energy.”

But, within the frenetic world, Kapitan says he found a surprising amount of camaraderie and fraternity.

“In New York City, all boats rise with the tide,” he says. “If one chef finds a farmer, maybe they can’t use it, they make introductions. Or if a cook wants to go to another kitchen, the chef will pick up the phone. Everyone works together and that's what makes it really exciting.”

Among Kapitan’s many highlights is his stint under Craig Shelton at the acclaimed Ryland Inn where he helped prepare an incredible four 12-course tasting menus each night.  

Most recently, Kapitan helmed the kitchen at Alobar in Long Island City where he applied his growing interest in farm-to-table cuisine.

“We did whole animal butchering and on Sunday nights we did 100-mile roasts with a whole lamb or goat and everything that went into those communal family-style meals was found within 100 miles,” he says. “That was great. And we did a lot of events. We did a James Beard House dinner with them.”

But then Hurricane Sandy hit and although the restaurant survived, Kapitan says he was wiped out.

“I lost my bikes (motorcycles), a good portion of my house,” he explains. “After the hurricane I just kind of reassessed my life and decided it was time to take a break from New York.”

After a short stint at The Precinct in Cincinatti, Kapitan reconnected with his old friend from the line back in the day, who turns out to be Brad Moore, chef and owner of School, formerly of Xacutti, Monsoon and The Rivoli.

“He called me up and said he was putting a project together and asked if I wanted to be involved,” says Kapitan. “Basically, I’ll be running the food in the restaurant and he’ll be covering the business aspect because there is a wholesale side, bakery, sandwiches, soda fountain in addition to the 80-seat dining room.”

The new location will be at Dovercourt and Sudbury and the concept is a new take on the 24-hour diner. And there will be a number of different areas of operation contained under one roof custom built for the West End condo dwellers in the area including the restaurant and two separate bar areas.

“Food wise, we really want to celebrate the great bounty of Southern Ontario and make a lot of connections with farmers,” says Kapitan. “Seasonal cuisine, very healthy, diner concept. Some really solid greasy food without the grease. And we’ll be open 24 hours, late-night, breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

In addition, Kapitan and Moore plan to start a charity for local kids in the area. According to Kapitan, a small percentage from each purchase will be donated and children can basically apply to access the funds to purchase hockey equipment or join a team, for example.


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