By: Megan Pasche | Photos by: AJ Harlond
Chef Olivier Jansen-Reynaud, owner of Clafouti Patisserie et Café in Toronto, made mouths water all around the world when he dreamed up the Crookie, a hybrid dessert which is comprised of one of his authentic French croissants filled with creamy double stuffed Oreos. It was an idea that quickly took the culinary world by storm after Chef Olivier came up with the idea for a chef challenge he was participating in. He posted a picture of his creation on the Internet, and it quickly went viral, with newspapers, websites and television shows from as far reaching as Australia wanting a piece of the Crookie action. When they did a feature on it on LIVE with Kelly and Michael, Kelly Ripa commented that, “she needed some alone time with her Crookie.” Chef Olivier’s small bakery on Queen Street West is still the only place you are able to find the original Crookie, but you’ll also find an array of savoury items there including breakfast items and a variety of croissant sandwiches.
Just recently, Chef Olivier has launched his newest project in Niagara Falls, where he and his wife, Veronica Rudan, have opened up Marilyn’s Bistro and Lounge, a casual Mediterranean dining restaurant that is perched on the top floor of the Tower Hotel, offering diners a spectacular view, great ambiance and delicious food. This new endeavor channels the glitz and glamour of Marilyn Monroe, while still offering a casual dining experience to both locals and tourists alike.
I recently caught up with Chef Olivier to chat about his background, his viral success with the Crookie, and his latest exciting endeavor in Niagara Falls.
Megan Pasche: Can you talk a bit about your culinary background?
Olivier Jansen-Reynaud: “My parents owned restaurants and cafes in France, so you could say I was born in a kitchen. My father moved to Canada when I was young and at the age of 11 I came to live with him. I spent my childhood in kitchens in restaurants he owned from Kelowna to Victoria. I learned from all the chefs we had working at the restaurants.”
MP: What made you decide you wanted to be a chef?
OJR: “Seeing chefs creating beautiful meals from simple ingredients like in the old days, not over complicating recipes, having a good time seeing families enjoying, chatting and laughing: creating joy was a key factor.”
MP: Do you have a cooking philosophy?
OJR: “I try to keep it simple and fresh. I respect the work of all the hands that brought us the food in our kitchen from the farmer’s hand harvesting the vegetables, to the driver who brought it, to the fishermen in the Arctic ocean spending long nights netting salmon. With one dish there are hundreds of people involved so always respect their work.”
MP: Is there someone in your career that stands out as a mentor?
OJR: “I worked with Daniel, a friend of my father. He had a small French restaurant in Victoria, and we were basically four people: two in the kitchen, and two in front, but the restaurant rocked. He was so good and old fashioned with his food and always in control. Even on the craziest nights he always treated us with respect and it showed in his food.”
MP: How do you stay educated on new food trends?
OJR: “I go to the grocery market everyday, working or not, I walk the aisles, look at the new prepared foods that are coming to consumers, I try not to rely too much on magazines because once it’s in a magazine the next trend is already on its way. I spend a lot of time in local ethnic neighbourhoods; I think people create trends not chefs.”
MP: Is there a moment in your career you are most proud of?
OJR: “Feeding my kids since they were small. My career has enabled me to show them where food comes from, for example, that fish comes whole, and then you have to fillet it, it is not already on ice pre portioned. We grow a garden that they help plant. I love seeing them helping in the kitchen at home because I know they will pass it on to their kids and on and on.”
MP: Do you have a favourite ingredient to use?
OJR: “I spent six months in East Asia, and I loved all the flavours that they use in their dishes, from Madras curry to Kafir leaves.”
MP: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
OJR: “The smiles at the tables during service and the camaraderie in the kitchen during sometimes hard times.”
MP: Do you have a favourite kitchen gadget?
OJR: “My knives and a rotor thin blade knife I picked up in Singapore.”
MP: What kind of meals do you make at home?
OJR: “Always different, always fresh and simple. If I am not working, we always eat together when we are at home. If I work, I prepare the meal ahead of time.”
MP: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
OJR: “I would be painting, which I do sometimes.”
MP: What would be on the meal at your last supper?
OJR: “My mothers mashed potatoes, endive salad, shallot vinaigrette and thick slices of fresh cooked ham.”
MP: Can you talk about the Crookie and how the idea for that came about?
OJR: “On a day off I got a call from a reporter friend of mine in Toronto, he was doing an article on hybrid desserts and one of his chefs had dropped out so he asked me to come up with something quickly.
My wife said you are good at croissants and kids love Oreos, so she worked on the name and I worked on the methodology, she said croissant… cookie…Crookie, so then the Crookie was born. The story was printed and we started selling them at Clafouti. The week after I posted a picture of it on social media and it just went viral. All the news organizations from the U.S wanted to feature it: ABC news, The Today Show, Time Magazine, Good Morning America, Global News, The Daily Mail and several more.”
MP: Can you talk a bit about Marilyn’s Bistro, and how you went about developing the menu for this restaurant?
OJR: “We starting talking about the menu and decor last fall, we felt we needed a new restaurant in Niagara that would not only appeal to the tourist but also the local clientele. We want tourists to feel like locals when they come to Marilyn’s as opposed to looking at the tourist clientele as one-time customers.
The menu is inspired by many flavours of the Mediterranean from Italy to Greece to Southern France. We are keeping it simple and fresh, with bold flavours. We try to use as many local ingredients whenever possible on our menu depending on the season, our wine list also reflects the region with a large Niagara selection.”
If you want to get a taste of Chef Olivier’s food, you can check out Clafouti located at 915 Queen Street West, Toronto (clafouti.com), or Marilyn’s Bistro and Lounge at 6732 Fallsview Boulevard (niagaratower.com).