Michael Tozzi is the chef at Olive + Gourmando, the busy daytime restaurant and bakery in Montreal, Quebec. Having followed a traditional path to the professional kitchen—he studied hospitality and culinary arts, and then worked his way up the ranks—he’s qualified to speak to the reality of chef life. (Spoiler alert: chefs don’t spend all day cooking.) In the meantime, he built a popular instagram account that caught our eye, in part because of his tagline “eat your vegetables,” and in part because of the enviable, attractive life he shares with his followers, recounting his love of travel, health and fitness, fashion, and his finesse with food. We spoke with Michael about what being a chef is really like, his favorite places to eat in Montreal right now, his take on the queer kitchen, and more.
Walk us through a typical day at Olive + Gourmando.
A typical day for me at the restaurant starts with answering emails and phone calls over a cup of coffee. Checking in on suppliers and deliveries, making sure we don't run out of anything. Then I do the rounds of the kitchen talking to all the production kitchen staff, from the bread bakers, passing by the pastry and the line cooks, making sure all is well and production is under way. Answering questions like—how much of salad to make for the day, what soups we should make this week, what vegetables to use in the garden salad.... After that, I usually have a chat with my sous chef and and/or the owners about how things are going overall, what changes we’re planning for the menu, the dynamics of the staff, scheduling, that kinda thing. Then I will go work the line for a bit, for the lunch rush, making sure all the dishes come out the way they are supposed to. I’m there to make sure things go out in appropriate time and that the quality and consistency of the dishes are up to our standards. After lunch, I then go do my orders (fruit and veg, cheese and meats, dry goods...) and I usually end my day in the prep kitchen testing things for the menu, new salad ideas, dishes, preparations.
Are there any myths about chef and restaurant life that you'd like to dispel?
I guess the biggest myth is that I spend my days cooking. I don’t really cook much anymore. I will do a lot of tests, then I standardize the recipes. Once that is done, the production staff takes it from there and makes the food the customers are eating everyday. I really only cook in the beginning of the creative process. Once I've set up the recipe and production, it’s mostly supervision, making sure things are done the right way and no corners get cut.
Do you have any thoughts on being a gay guy in the kitchen? Has it affected your work in a positive or negative way?
Montreal is a pretty progressive and open city. Not to say that there isn't any negativity out there because there always is. But I think I've been lucky enough to work in some really great kitchens where my sexual preference didn't seem to matter. I’ve even worked in restaurants where it was more of a "boys club" kitchen with all loud straight guys and I managed to make it work and fit in. Nowadays, we see more and more women in the kitchen. I feel like the "boys club" is slowly dying. I believe the key is to have a diverse team of creative individuals who inspire each other with their different backgrounds. Being gay puts us right where we wanna be, we can play with the lines of feminine and masculine. Our food doesn't have to be just one or the other. We must use our strengths to our advantage.
What's the secret to a proper lunch? What are diners usually looking for?
The key to a good lunch is simplicity. People usually only have an hour to eat and they’re usually feeling guilty about the pizza and/or bowl of pasta they ate the night before, so typically our diners are looking for something quick, healthy, and delicious. And that is what we aim to do here at the restaurant. We get the best produce we can find, try to work with super foods, aim to give a variety of gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan options. We definitely offer healthy options to our diners but if they’re more in the mood to treat themselves to a cheesy grilled panini, we also have those. There’s something for everyone.
What distinguishes the food in Montreal? Can you share some of your favorite spots?
What makes our food scene unique is that the restaurants reflect the people that live in the city: It’s diverse and multicultural. You can find many different types of cuisines. Some of my favourites right now are Vin Papillon, Foxy and Nora Gray for dinner, and Butterblume and Lawrence for brunch.
We love that your Instagram tagline is "eat your vegetables." What's your relationship with Instagram like?
My relationship with Instagram started very innocently a few years ago. Started posting pictures of me and my friends on the weekend, of my travels, activities I did, me and my buddies at the gym, that kinda thing. I loved filtering the photos and posting them online to share with friends. I didn't really post anything about work or the food I was cooking. I guess I thought the people who followed me wouldn't be interested in my lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. It was only a bit over a year ago that my boss, Dyan Solomon, told me it was wild how I had built this following on Instagram for myself but no one really knew how i spent 95% of my time. That I would cook and created these beautiful dishes but you wouldn't know by looking at my Instagram. So I decided to start including my love for food with the rest of my Instagram's post about travel, fashion, and fitness. And I'm so glad I have. Food is my passion, and I’m proud of the work I do. I’ve been able to bond over Instagram with other chefs around the world and the response has just been a positive experience.
What’s next for you?
In the next few years, I’d really like to have a place of my own. Do the food I love to make in my own restaurant. Creating something has always been a dream of mine and I look forward to having my own "baby" to see grow and hopefully achieve success like Olive + Gourmando has seen.
Photos by Jonathan Melendez..