When the health inspector showed up at his new restaurant, Jesse Fader just shook his head and chuckled. As co-owner of several Toronto restaurants, Fader is no stranger to the Goldilockian reactions of diners: too hot, too cold, too big, too small. But the situation at Favorites, which serves Thai cuisine, was something new. A dozen complaints of food poisoning in the first four months was more than all his other restaurants — bistro Paris Paris, two locations of Superpoint Pizza, and Bar Fancy, a late-night snack bar — combined.
“There’s a pang that hits your stomach when the health inspector walks in,” said Fader, a cook-turned-owner who, over 20 years, has worked in kitchens ranging from immaculate to those that ought to be shut down.
“You’re like, oh shit, do my fridges have all their thermometers? Is there any food that’s been left out? At Favorites, I had a laugh with him,” he said. “The floors are clean. The surfaces are clean. All the fridges are cold. Everything’s kept six inches off the ground and there’s no meat above veg. All of the things they’re looking for.” (A Toronto Public Health spokesperson confirmed Favorites was inspected based on a food poisoning complaint and no violations were found.)
Confident of his spotless kitchen, Fader was able to see the brief inspection as comedic. The reason for it, however, troubles him.
“I don’t think I’m saying anything crazy by saying that more or less all the Thai restaurants in Toronto are green, yellow, red curry, pad thai, khao soi restaurants,” Favorites chef Haan Palcu-Chang said. “They’re seriously skewed to a Western palate. Which means that a lot of stuff is way too sweet, not acidic enough, not spicy enough, missing a lot of the intense fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste that are ubiquitous in Thailand.”
“I started noticing the double standards. I can sell a pasta with cheese and pepper for $18 and never a peep is heard. Try and sell a curry for $20 in which there are 30 ingredients pounded by hand…