The Journey of Chef Tom Kral
Call of the Wild
Tom’s ‘Call of the Wild’ began as young boy, constantly surrounded by food. As a ‘second Nature’ he developed the arts of gathering, preparing and adventuring at his family cottage retreat near Muskoka. Away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, he would come alive in the forests, and gardens, watching the golden hues of the sun setting in the West. The family always had something on the go, from jam making as a way of preserving the wild blueberries to picking and drying an assortment of fungi.
Kral is Czech for King
Incidentally, his last name, Kral is the Czech word for King. The King of the Boletes, or Porcini mushroom was gathered at the cottage and has become a family crest of sorts. From a long line of cooks, Tom apprenticeship in the culinary arts began early, right at home. His parents are from the Czech Republic and worked hard to establish the Prague, a delicatessen on Queen Street West, in Toronto. He lived above the restaurant, where home, food and business comingled, bestowing an abiding, deep respect for the preparation, enjoyment and celebration of food and drink. After apprenticing under many outstanding chef mentors in his youth, including Chefs Henry Marcan, Susur Lee and John Higgins. Kral’s confidence with the way of food became second nature. But it was when he went on a journey to the motherland, the Czech Republic, that his inspiration hit a new high. Here, the deep connection between the rustic countryside and the cultural richness of simple, rustic, eternal rhythms held their sway. The quest for roots led Tom home to the heart of the Czech Motherland, and of course straight to her kitchen. Simple, hearty foods, robust vegetable gardens, rich meats and thirst-slaking drink, were the common fare here. Traditions passed on through countless generations, secrets of the culinary class were revealed to Kral and embedded themselves deeply into his soul.
This awakening stirred his creative gravy, and returning to Toronto, King Kral set out to claim his family throne: the Prague. With a torrent of energy, he revamped the deli and infused it with a freshness of ideas and cultural regeneration. For seven devoted years he became a successful restauranteur, caterer, and chef. And then hitting up against a wall of exhaustion and imbalance he was suddenly, done. It was time for a new vision. Crisis precipitates innovation. It was time for ‘Food Chi’ and a new vision.
The “new” idea, was ancient in its origins: to prepare delectable, locally foraged wild foods alongside the freshest farm grown goodness in a rustic, celebratory dining experience. With a bubbling enthusiasm for feral foods and ferments thrown in the mix, he brings wholesome, wild and locally grown abundance to the table.
Chef Kral’s genius lies in his adaptability to thrive in any culinary environment. It is a beautiful partnership: culinary stewardship united in a conscientious cause to live close to Mother Earth, eating with Epicurean relish both the finest foods and the joys of experimentation and philosophy. Epicurus, the Hellenistic Elder who founded a school of philosophy that had a garden as its home, would do well to tarry here. His kitchen, overlooking the forests and ocean down by Ella Beach, is a delight to walk into….
Part restaurant, apothecary and fermentation elixir bar, Tom is always fine-tuning his kitchen space and experiments. Far beyond catering, he delivers a culinary adventure: bringing a mastery to ‘nomadic kitchen arts’, improvising and attuning to wherever the action is. From the recent tasting of a smoked-blackcherry-vanilla-bean-licorice-root ale to his chiselled signature dish, the driftwood-hot-rockbouillabaisse he conjured up on an Ella beach fire, or at an charity event feeding hundreds of hungry activists, Kral knows how to deliver the goods. But it is his passion for the holistic and rustic above all else, that led to his greatest self-made-creation: “Nature’s Chef”. Innovation usually entails a crisis, and a bumping up against limits that no longer serve a greater good. In Tom’s case, having worked hard in the fast-paced restaurant-circuit, he succumbed to ‘chef burnout’. Out of shape and ‘out of his mind’, he set about turning his life around. Which meant tapping the deep roots of food and drink. “Let thy food be thy medicine” became his guiding philosophy.