For a number of years, boutique and luxury hotels have been forming partnerships with celebrity chefs to elevate the onsite-dining experience and increase revenues. As Canada’s culinary scene slowly comes back to life, adding chef-branded restaurants into hotel food-and-beverage (F&B) strategies is proving to be mutually beneficial and is a great draw for both hotel guests and locals alike who are craving new experiences.
Chef-branded restaurants are an attractive and unique selling point for boutique and luxury hotels, bringing instant recognition to a property. An experienced chef with a proven track record of delivering exceptional dishes not only boosts consumer confidence, but also guarantees the highest level of customer service.
From the restaurant’s perspective, the hotel provides built-in customers in a desirable market. Also, chef-owners have more room to experiment to make the restaurant stand out with a hotel’s backing, driving value within the community and providing a place to connect.
Overall, these partnerships are built on trust and compatibility, and the brands must integrate seamlessly to achieve sustained business success. Here, F&H highlights a few successful chef/hotel partnerships in Canada.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson | Four Seasons Hotel Montreal
Ethiopian-born Swedish-American celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson opened his first restaurant in Canada, MARCUS Restaurant + Lounge, at the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal in 2019. Chef Samuelsson made his name at just 24-years old at Michelin-starred Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit in New York, which earned three-stars from the New York Times, making chef Samuelsson the youngest chef to ever achieve this honour, before he moved on to open his own restaurants.
Designed by Atelier Zébulon Perron, MARCUS Restaurant + Lounge is a stylish and sophisticated space with around 180 seats between its main dining room and terrace, and approximately 120 seats at its lounge-bar section. The restaurant and lounge serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, with a menu that focuses on seafood dishes, including whole lobster with truffle and garlic butter ($95); black cod with sesame, potato and edamame ($46); and Bluefin tuna tartare with jalapeño, capers and tobiko ($35).
“I’ve loved the city of Montreal since my formative years and the project itself was one I couldn’t pass up. Working with the hotel’s ownership team is incredible and their passion for both the city and our brand makes it effortless because they are committed to making it work.”
He says chef-branded restaurants will continue to change and grow in the future as part of a hotel’s competitive set and a chef’s longing to be more creative in the kitchen.
Chef Akira Back | Bisha Hotel Toronto
Michelin-starred chef Akira Back’s namesake restaurant at the Bisha Hotel Toronto opened in 2017, marking his first foray into Canada. The 3,000-sq.-ft. space, designed by Studio Munge, blends Japanese minimalism and luxury. The restaurant can accommodate 115 guests, plus a private dining room for up to 20 guests.
“The Bisha Hotel was an easy decision because we believed in the brand and atmosphere, which Charles Khabouth and Ink Entertainment created, and knew the Akira Back restaurant brand would be a perfect fit,” says chef Back. “People love our food and service, and continue to choose our restaurant and enjoy themselves [during] a special dining experience.”
Akira Back restaurant offers a dinner menu inspired by chef Back’s life experiences. With additional locations in Paris, Dubai, Singapore, Dallas, Las Vegas, New Delhi and more, signature menu items include the Tuna Mushroom Pizza ($26), 48 Hours Wagyu Short Rib ($39), and Grilled Alaskan King Crab ($40). The restaurant also features a six-seat sushi bar so guests can observe the chefs at work, which elevates the guest experience even further.
“Restaurants are an amenity of a hotel, but most importantly, an amenity that makes a very good profit for the hotel,” says chef Back. “Hotels have a lot of support functions and resources. They have infrastructure from HR to purchasing departments, which is helpful when opening a restaurant.”
Chef Back says understanding the culture and style of both organizations makes for a successful hotel/chef partnership. “We need to be able to work together to offer both a dynamic hotel and restaurant experience. Teamwork and brand synergy need to be cohesive. There are a lot of crossover functions where two organizations are working together with both brand standards and operational procedures taken into account.”
Chef Daniel Boulud | Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
Since opening the doors to its Yorkville location in 2012, the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto introduced the city to Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud’s modern French brasserie Café Boulud.
For chef Boulud, partnering with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts was a golden opportunity to be involved with one of the world’s best-known hotel brands, making him only the third international chef to touch down in Toronto at the time.
“We share the same core values of hospitality, and we incorporate those values into [every facet of the business],” says chef Boulud. “We share a commitment to excellence and everything we do is for the sake of maintaining [a healthy partnership]. There is a synergy of marketing, communication and staff training.”
Previously, Boulud says chefs and hoteliers built consulting relationships where the chef was primarily “concerned about their food but not the full application.” However, over the years, the relationship has evolved to a more inclusive, co-dependent managing style.
Located on the second floor of the hotel and designed by Rosalie Wise Design (re-designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio in 2015), the space features local woods, warm textures and plenty of natural light, and can accommodate up to 150 diners, with a private dining area for 10 guests.
Café Boulud offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and serves a seasonally changing menu rooted in the French tradition. Menu items include pan-seared trout with baby gem lettuce, orange segments, shaved fennel and labneh ($39); winter-squash soup with duck prosciutto, nutmeg crème fraiche, pumpkin seed and spiced crouton ($21); and venison striploin with port-braised red cabbage, barley, lingonberry and juniper jus ($55).
“Café Boulud is a destination restaurant where customers can expect originality, good service, an inviting atmosphere and quality food that’s reasonably priced,” says chef Boulud.
Below the café is d|bar by Chef Daniel Boulud, a lively street-level bar and lounge offering lunch, dinner and late-night menus. That same year (2012), chef Boulud opened Maison Boulud at The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal with help of his New York-based management company, The Dinex Group.
BY NICOLE DI TOMASSO