Showcasing vegetable cookery of a certain pedigree
High school friends Ariel Coplan and Jacob Fox opened Thoroughbred Food & Drink in Toronto’s entertainment district with a great concept — or so they thought. “The haute dog” would be a house-made truffle sausage with aioli on a bun freshly baked in-house. They expected a hit, but diners didn’t order it.
Instead, people kept coming back again and again for a different menu item — the Kung Pao Cauliflower. “People went crazy for it,” says Coplan, Thoroughbred’s chef, who finds inspiration in the pockets of ethnic communities dotting the Toronto area. “It is still our best-selling dish.”
He poaches cauliflower in a soy-based sauce infused with chili, sugar, ginger and lime, then flash-fries it with cashews. In the past few months, cold weather conditions affected the supply of cauliflower, raising its cost.
When the partners opened Thoroughbred in 2014, cauliflower was a little more than $40 (Canadian) a case. Then prices soared to $90 a case for heads coming from outside of Canada. “We had to raise prices, although we didn’t double our prices,” says Coplan. “We had to bite the bullet a bit on that one.”
Nose To Tail
Thoroughbred has a separate vegetarian menu, which allows Coplan to make vegetables the star. “I like to use vegetables in an unexpected manner,” he says. Many dishes rotate seasonally, such as Butternut squash lasagna (with Maitake mushrooms, homemade Ricotta and shaved black truffle) and mushroom Wellington.
Other veggie dishes are red quinoa beet salad with Radicchio, Blue Cheese and figs; charred dandelion; and gnocchi with Jerusalem artichokes. “Everything is on the plate for a reason,” says Coplan. “We like to try to utilize every aspect of the vegetable. Sweet potato greens are incredibly sweet, arugula flowers, kohlrabi greens and stem. Nose to tail.
“We are just starting our rooftop garden and will be trying to concentrate and focus on heirloom varieties of lettuces.” Inside the three-story Victorian, patrons can stay at the bar downstairs, where casual food is served, or visit the second floor, for a more refined menu. The top landing will soon be a wine bar.
The restaurant’s name and mascot suggest pedigree, which seems to contradict the restaurant’s unpretentious vibe and humble chef. Still, Coplan — even at the young age of 31 — has cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens throughout the world, including New York City, the UK and Australia.
One of the dishes on the vegetarian menu is called Brussels Sprout 5:15. What are the numbers for? A passage in the vegetarian bible: Chapter 5, verse 15? Or the start of vegetable happy hour? Neither. “It is the time it takes to perfectly smoke the egg,” which accompanies the dish, “so the yolk is still runny,” says Fox, who handles marketing at the restaurant.
Connecting With Farmers
Coplan gets his produce from a variety of sources, including Bondi Produce . The company’s foodservice director, Ezio Bondi, sends out market reports to educate customers on prices and what’s happening with crops locally and in the world. “The reports tell us which crops are naturally flourishing,” says Coplan. “Having this kind of a dialogue with the purveyor is helpful — and really necessary.”
Growing up in Toronto, Coplan made weekly visits to the farmers market with his father. “That really opened my eyes. Being able to have the connection with the farmer made the food taste better. At Thoroughbred, we put a lot of pride into utilizing different cooking techniques for vegetables,” he says. “Vegetable cookery and preparation require equally as much skill as meat or fish.”