Daniel Muia, the owner and chef at Mogette Bistro, has a culinary upbringing that foodies can appreciate. Starting in the dining room at the Granite Club on Bayview Ave., Muia worked his way up the ranks to eventually took a position at The Fifth under Didier Leroy and eventually moved on to work at Restaurant Didier, Celestin, and Lumiere in Vancouver with the Food Network’s Rob Feenie. Before opening up his own restaurant, Muia was the chef de cuisine at Jamie Kennedy Restaurant.
We caught up with the busy chef recently and asked him about his gastronomic inspirations, favourite cooking utensil and his secret affection for Star Trek. Here’s what he had to say…
What’s the most inventive dish you’ve ever tried in Toronto?
That’s a big question at the moment.
Is that because there’s so many or because there’s so few?
There’s so many. The most inventive dish I’ve ever tried in Toronto, probably right now, is the pastrami foie gras torchon that I had at Beast Restaurant a few months ago. Scott made this torchon with foie gras that was marinated with the same sort of spices that you use in pastrami and then smoked it and served it with some grapefruit, believe it or not, and a hazelnut gremolata and it was fantastic. He served it with a little bit of French toast, pan perdue and that was the most inventive dish I’ve ever had in Toronto ever. It was inventive and delicious.
What is your favourite ingredient to use in the kitchen?
In the kitchen, I’ve gotta admit, it ends up coming to some kind of pork product. I’m a big fan of the pig and all its many shapes and sizes. I love making choucroute, I love making sausages, I love making my own bacon. So probably anything to do with bacon is my favourite ingredient in the kitchen.
Is that because it’s so flavourful?
I don’t know if it’s because it’s the most flavourful, but for me, it’s the most versatile. You can use so many different parts of the pig to create to create so many different textures and flavours and they all sort of come from the same animal. And also, probably because of my background, my grandparents were always making sausages or making their own salamis and stuff like that, so the pig was so rooted in my upbringing that it’s hard to get away from it.
What is your most oft-used kitchen utensil?
Believe it or not, it’s just a good old-fashioned spoon. With a spoon, you can do so much. It’s a very under-used utensil, people don’t know what they can do with it.
Is that because you sample the food a lot?
It’s because I taste the food a lot, I make cannelles, just making designs on the plate. Everyone’s going to say a knife of the bat, yes, you’re going to use a knife the most. But right after the knife, I pick up the spoon before I do anything else. Tasting, moulding, plating, everything – it’s the spoon.
Where do you find inspiration for your food at Mogette?
The inspiration for my menu normally comes from my own experiences in life. My grandmother’s cooking was a big influence, my mother’s cooking was a big influence. After nona and mom comes probably the Larousse, just good old-fashioned French farm country cooking is where I draw most of my inspiration.
What are you best known for cooking at home?
If you come to my house, probably what you’re going to get is you’re going to get a beef bourguignon. Or you’re going to get a jambalaya, a chicken and shrimp jambalaya.
Is that what’s most requested of you by your family?
Actually, the most requested thing from my family is French onion soup. If they want something, it’s usually French onion soup.
What’s one dish that you’d want every guest to try at Mogette?
Probably my cassoulet. Not enough people order it when they come to the restaurant.
What is it?
Cassoulet is a stew of duck confit, sausage and I put lamb in there. It’s a white bean stew.
If you were on death row, what would you want your last meal to be?
I’d want a full-on Chinese supper. I’d want some fried rice and egg rolls, some potstickers, a beef and ginger hotpot. I’d want a Chinese feast with all the fixings. I love Chinese food. That’s my second passion to French food.
Where’s your favourite place to get Chinese food in Toronto?
There’s so many. The one place I really enjoy eating dimsum, I don’t know the name of it because it’s written in Chinese, but all I know is it’s at Highway 7 and Woodbine. It’s one of the places in Markham. If I don’t go to dimsum, I go to East Moon and that’s a Chinese restaurant up in Vaughn near Markham. They’ve got the best egg rolls ever there.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
Believe it or not, Jeri Ryan.
I’m a big nerd. She plays a Star Trek character. But she owns a couple of big French restaurants. I’m a big Star Trek fan and I didn’t realize this woman was so into food. If I had to take someone out as my dream dinner guest, I’d probably take her because I think she’d really appreciate French food.
Interview and photograph by Maria Cootauco