Steven Salm adds life experience to the dining experience
Lunch was on.
With the august, flower-laden dining room of The Chase humming with sounds of the Friday lunch hour — all the patrons here having shed the grim fatalism of a late-blooming Toronto spring — I was making do quite nicely when I suddenly noticed an infinitesimal twitch in my dining companion. His eyes boring into the floor near us, he quickly called over a server and began to gesticulate re: a napkin that had fallen under a guest’s table.
“I’m sorry,” Steven Salm said, turning to me again, the fog falling from his face. “I was beginning to have heart palpitations!”
Once a front-of-the-house man, always a front-of-the-house man. Even when he’s now the president of Chase Hospitality Group, whose portfolio seems to be growing by the day, and whose job involves moving the taste-making needle in this town — and not just wayward napkins.
You have to have the “pea toast,” the chap with a cursory resemblance to Jeremy Piven instructs, informing me that haute pea toast is the new avocado toast. Verdict: delicious.
Bracketed by a table near a window on the fifth floor of the company’s crown jewel, we were in the penthouselike resto that has, over its five years, become a staple in the Toronto dining-scape, drawing TIFF denizens like Angelina Jolie (there was a party hosted for her film here in 2017), honest-to-goodness regulars like Meghan Markle (last seen here on the eve of the Invictus Games), not to mention society standard-bearers such as Joe Mimran.
My mission? To come today to get the future lay of the land from Salm, who’s been dancing hard in those five years: in Yorkville, as many know, his company followed up The Chase with the Japanese juggernaut that is Kasa Moto, while in Toronto’s Thompson Hotel they debuted a Francophile’s favour called Colette. Let’s not forget, too, that nouveau vegan brand of eateries called Planta, which this year expanded to the U.S., opening up smack in the heart of South Beach, in partnership with Miami club king David Grutman.
Back at home square, it behooves me to mention that Salm and Co. entered into a partnership with Holt Renfrew, bringing Colette to its store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall and at flagship locations in Vancouver and Montreal.
Plainly, though, there is nada time to rest on their laurels, as I’m soon dutifully informed by the 33-year-old. Coming in September, Salm exclusively reveals to the Star, is their first establishment in midtown. It’s going up at the corner of St. Clair Ave. and Yonge St., and it’s been bequeathed with the name Arthur’s — after Salm’s father, who died four days before The Chase group was incorporated.
Indeed, if all good restaurants tell a story, then this new one leans more toward autobiography. The 7,500-square-foot restaurant, with culinary director Tyler Shedden at the helm, is expected to manifest the feeling of a classic North American grill with a menu of New York classics — an ode to many of the gastro adventures that Salm enjoyed with dad while growing in the Big Apple.
“My parents were not in ‘the business,’ but we were always crazy food-obsessed as a family,” he explained. “We would literally sit at dinner and then discuss what we were going to have for dinner the next night.”
The product of a mom raised Jewish in Canada and a dad born and raised in Germany — they met cute in the Bahamas — Salm keenly recalled that they always, always had dinner together, “at a table. No matter what.” The precise times may have shifted — depending on the activities he and his brother were up to — but it was always en famille.
“It was always a round table ... always round. With six chairs. Next to me was an empty chair and next to my brother was an empty chair.”
Did his parents mean to have two more kids and just not get around to it?
“That is the case,” Salm laughed, levelling a gaze.
Growing up in an environment where all trips virtually revolved around food and his mother was a whiz in the kitchen (“the original creator of the chopped salad”), his days in New York also afforded him an ongoing experience of restaurant tic-tac-toe. It was frequenting institutions such as Il Mulino — the epitome of an Old New York hangout — that engendered a lifelong interest in the mechanics of restaurants, and that ultimately put him on a path that had him cutting his teeth working at New York’s Ritz-Carlton and then working his way up within the influential BLT restaurant empire.
An opportunity with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — working on the hospitality side — is what brought him to Canada. One thing led to another, which led to the founding of his own company, in concert with fellow co-founder Michael Kimel.
But the spectre of his dad, well, it never is far. He was an impresario of brunch: “He would bring in everything! Set up a feast on Sundays!” And it’s this spirit, Salm said, that he wants to bring to the brunch playbook at Arthur’s when it opens.
“Forest Hill … Rosedale ... Summerhill ... Yorkville,” he begins to list the neighbourhoods that will make the new spot a handy axis point. “It’s all right there.”
We ricocheted through a host of other topics.
He mentioned his months-old son with wife Tali, a buyer at Hudson’s Bay (baby Asher, he says, has “made me more aware of high chairs in restaurants than I ever was”). We discussed his own preference these days for a plant-based diet; he started doing it for “lifestyle purposes” but is also philosophical about the choice, often citing the statistic that it takes three months’ worth of shower water to produce one pound of livestock. He gave me his take-it-or-leave spin on the new luxury, particularly in the world of fine dining: “premium but not pretentious” is the motto.
“It’s all about the experience,” concluded Salm with emphasis. “It’s how I grew up.”