Garleek Kitchen was a new Tibetan/Nepali spot in Parkdale that came highly recommended and not without good reason. It was very quickly welcomed by the community and now boasts a sterling reputation for serving some incredible dishes you can find nowhere else in Toronto, not even in the other Nepali or Tibetan restaurants in the neighborhoods. Tsering was kind enough to sit down with us to answer a few questions.
Sadi: So, Tsering, tell us how business has been going so far?
Tsering: It’s been not bad. To be honest, we didn’t do any marketing/advertising except for social media that we do every once in a while but other than that the quality of the food helps bring in business.
S: How long have you guys been open here?
T: Almost nine months now, not even a year.
Andrew: What was the reason for the name?
T: The Garleek Kitchen—I was working at a factory when I came to Canada and a good friend of mine from Jamaica, a Jamaican guy, he cooked chicken with a lot of leeks in it. Back then, I was in high school and working at the factory, I was trying to do both, and I normally brought like, marinated chicken, I marinated it with lots of garlic in it. So we shared the food during the dinnertime and I was like, ‘”What’d you put here?” and he said it was his grandma’s recipe. So…he liked my butter chicken, so I gave it to him…and I took the leek, how he marinated it and all that and also I gave him how to make butter chicken as a treat.
The whole idea I was like, “If I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to name it Garleek.” Because it sounded like an actual garlic but when you go through it it’s like a word thing.
A: So my question to you is, what do you want people to know about Garleek Kitchen? If you had to explain this place to someone who doesn’t know anything about it, what would you say?
T: Back in high school I was working in a restaurant that was a Vietnamese restaurant. I was cooking for them until I finished, at least three years, making soup. I don’t know the secret recipe. I called the owner, the Ginger franchise restaurant, the owner, I called her and I’m a very good friend with the owner, and I called her and told her, “I’m opening my own restaurant and I want to serve the Vietnamese soup as well and if you could share the recipe that would be a huge help for me,” which she kindly did. In fact she came here and she showed all the, her tricks, and also gave me the recipe and brought me a bunch of equipment that goes along with the soup.
A: That’s really interesting, I have question related to this. Sometimes people are very protective of their recipes, especially with secret recipes—why do you think she did this?
T: I think she trust me, I believe. If she, sometimes she takes a vacation, goes to Vancouver, she travels a lot, I’m in charge. I do make the sauce. I do know the recipe. But I also just don’t want to make it myself, like, “Let’s go make Vietnamese soup.” I want to get, kind of, her permission that I’m not just…I know I want to go ahead and do it so I asked her, and yeah while she’s away on vacation I make things the way she wants it, so she trusts me and I think, “Might as well give it. Either way, he knows.”
S: What’s the most popular dish here?
T: The chow mein is very popular. The momos are very popular—particularly the veggie momos. A lot of Caucasian people order lots of veggie momos.
A: that’s really cool, and just because it’s the most popular doesn’t mean it’s the best. What’s the thing you’re most proud of serving?
T: Most proud?
A: Like you feel the happiest making it.
T: It was the chow mein. Back then, I grew up inside a monastery and we never had much money in our town but beside our monastery there’s a small street vendor and I always ate chow mein there and they made the most wonderful chow mein. And the noodle itself, I tried to find the actual right noodle and it’s so hard to find the actual noodle. Noodle is the one that makes exactly how you want it—there’s the Italian noodle, Chinese noodle, Vietnamese noodle, Thai noodle…this noodle to me is the best noodle. And I order it all the way from Calgary.
A: What’s in it?
T: It has eggs and flour mixed. And that’s what they have.
A: And the wheat has to come from Calgary?
T: I used to order from another and they said they don’t supply that anymore so I had to search—
S:—how many noodles did you go through? How many did you test?
T: At least 12 or 13. Lots, they look good but when you eat, there’s something that… I don’t know…it’s not soft…feels a little chewy.
A: You’ve told us a lot about this restaurant, but tell us how you began in the restaurant industry and what made you decide to open this restaurant. Tell us that journey
T: Three years ago I really wanted to open a restaurant. I’d been working in restaurants a lot and working for other people and I wanted to work for myself and that was three years ago and I never got the chance and the dream was about to die. But all of a sudden the owner of this restaurant, I went to the house, the previous owner, to run a gas line for them and we started talking and kind of like, I got the notice that it was for sale and it was a really good deal and I had to ask my wife what she thought and she said, “Ok if you can…it’s a good idea. Go for it, I’ll support you.” I had a bit of saved money so I was like, “Ok, let’s gamble.” Worst comes to worst, I may not get that money back but I didn’t have to look for a chef and the cook and the location. The location is ok and the food is good.
S: When you’re not eating here, where’s your favourite place to eat in Toronto?
T: For breakfast, I go to Easy Rider down there. It’s my wife’s favourite place. For dinner, we explore around. I used to live in the Islington area. There’s an old friend who runs a Japanese restaurant that serves a Korean and Japanese mix and we often go there as a support and the food is good and affordable.
A: And if it was your last day on earth and you had one meal to eat, what would it be?
T: It would be Garleek Kitchen!
S: What would you order, or make for yourself?
T: I’d go by the day. Sometimes I make noodle soup, sometimes I make fried rice, or scrambled eggs and bread.
A: So you mentioned that the restaurant—you’re going through the phase where you’re struggling to establish yourself. Do you read reviews of your restaurant? How does it make you feel? How do you react to good reviews, bad reviews?
T: We’ve had a pretty good response from the people. There’s always a lot of ideas people give you, a lot of suggestions and everything.
A: What are some of the challenges you’re worried about for this restaurant and how do you deal with it?
T: Yeah, like sometimes, I don’t know if it’s going to go. You don’t have a guarantee that this is for sure. Anything can happen. There’s no concrete feeling of, “I’m settled, I’m good.” You’ve always got a bit of paranoia. But business is always like that.
A: What’s your favourite thing about the job? In spite of how hard it is you still do it.
T: The best part is you’re doing what you love to do. That’s the best part. It’s not like someone is telling me to do it, I’m doing it because I love to do it. So at the end of the day I’m cheering up people, making them happy, I cook for them the way they like it and there’s nothing ready. They can tell me, “I don’t like this, can you put that, can you check that out” and I can do it—there’s nothing ready and I’m just getting orders and making them. And that’s…you’re connected to the person and that person will eat the food and they’ll see and tell me what they think.
In my family, I have 6 brothers and 2 sisters, we have a huge family. I always think my mom and dad never paid attention to me so I’d go to my grandma’s house and she’d always cook something for us. And since then I’ve always felt that food is a thing that connects people.
A: That’s very true. When you were in the restaurant industry, and you’ve been in the restaurant industry for a while, did you have any teachers or mentors along the way? Did they tell you anything that was helpful that you’ve remembered all these years?
T: There was one. When I was working at…I was a newcomer, I didn’t have much of anything, but I was working at the restaurant and there was an older chef and he was telling me, “One day you’ll run a restaurant and even you, you’ll run a restaurant in your life and you’ll need it” and he showed us how to hold a knife, cutting, making like—we did make momos but then to serve to restaurant and how it should look and proper close…that’s small stuff also but it helps the technique. Like how you should be storing the foods and when you cook, it helps how…because you don’t maintain it well it goes bad faster.
S: If someone was going to open up a restaurant today, what piece of advice would you give them?
T: I would give them the piece of advise is, most important is the quality of the food and the person who’s running the restaurant should know about the food. What type of food, any type of food, any business, any type of business, you don’t want to hire for your business. For example, my situation, if I hired the chef and my business was doing good and the chef decide, “Either you raise me or I leave.” What do you do? You have to raise him. Or you shut down the business. If you know how to cook and you do the finishing part, you can teach them and have them as long as you want. But most important is you—but any kind of business you need to know how to do it. For restaurant business, the most important is you need to know how to cook.
S: Well that was all of our questions. Thank you for your time Tsering!
1500 Queen Street W