Owner: Armando Mano
Chef: Simon Abad
Many star chefs have earned their culinary stripes in Centro’s vast, stainless steel kitchen: Raffaello Ferrari, Michael Bonacini, Marc Thuet, Bruce Woods, Jason Carter and now Simon Abad, have all sharpened their skills, precision and speed here. When Franco Prevedello opened Centro in 1989, the dining-out landscape shifted. The new Italian cuisine was born and took over. Eventually Centro was sold to restaurateur Tony Longo, and then most recently to Armando Mano, who started bussing tables here in 1989. Now, as owner, he has re-designed it to a new beauty, yet still keeps up the tradition of fine dining. Today, Centro continues to hold a unique place in our society. I call it that flawless Centro style.
Sara Waxman: Centro has a 25-year history. There must be some secret, some magic that keeps it among the top restaurants in the city.
Armando Mano: A lot goes back to its original roots, of Franco Prevedello selling attention to detail, buying great quality, keeping things clean, simple, and providing great service. That encompasses what his philosophy was and is instilled in all of us that had the pleasure of working with him. Now I have the pleasure of working with Simon. It’s the first time in the history of the restaurant that we have open lines of communication on a daily basis, whether it’s from purchasing or writing menu items or getting a feel for what our clients want. And the key to a good chef is to be able to relay that message to the server. Because when a server comes to your table and he can describe all the components of the dish in a way that the client can understand, then half the battle is won.
SW: So, now your style, Armando, has become the Centro style.
AM: Thank you. You have to find yourself. My biggest idea of what service should be is being able to read a table—and that, you cannot teach a waiter. Every guest is different. Some want to be heard, some want to be entertained, some want to be able to see you and not hear you. So, you have to have that feeling for the table, without being stuffy, in an elegant setting that is friendly and inviting.
SW: Now there are people who are vegetarian and everyone’s on diets. And there is consistently a style of Centro cuisine. It’s rich, elegant and perfect—but still, you’re open to change.
AM: That’s why it’s called the service industry. And we’ve had such a loyal clientele for many years but you have to be able to adjust. I said to Simon: 70 per cent, I want you to look at what my existing clients want; the other 30 per cent, you can be as creative as you want. And Simon’s exceeded my expectations, from attention to detail to leadership. I haven’t had to say a word when it’s about managing the kitchen, discipline, punctuality, controlling labour or purchasing. And I knew Simon could cook. He’s a rare breed who has a grasp of great food, great presentation.
SW: Simon, when did you join Centro?
Simon Abad: In 2007, and I started as the ‘pasta guy,’ under Chef Woods. It was a great opportunity. I used to work just down the street and I remember seeing this restaurant here; I always said to myself that I wanted to eat here—not even thinking of possibly working here. So, it was a big order coming on board. But I trained at George Brown College’s Culinary Management School. After that I worked at Terra, at Bistro 990, and with David Adjey and then shortly after joined the team here. And I was really excited.
AM: With Simon, you see the passion. If you follow him on Facebook or twitter, you realize he’s out eating. I think every penny that he makes is spent on dining experiences in Toronto, Las Vegas or Montreal. He just loves food, loves what he does. But to translate that into leading a team, it’s a big step.
SW: So, who creates the mood in the dining room, trains the waiters…?
AM: A great manager, Jeremy Geyer, who makes my life a lot easier from the training aspect. Jeremy is a dear friend and he’s someone that I can go to work with on a daily basis. We can argue and butt heads over details or staff choices or table locations, or wine events, purchasing, but there’s not another person in the city that knows more about wine or food than Jeremy. He’s committed, he’s passionate and he adores the industry.
SW: But it all starts with the head of the team.
AM: I think the body can’t function without the head but the head could not function without the body. And to have Jeremy, Simon, and other staff like Mitchell, Tracy, Carla, I mean those are people that really make this restaurant. If I could use an analogy of a car, I could be the body but they’re the engine. I’m not going anywhere without an engine, and the restaurant would not be moving forward.
Centro, 2472 Yonge St., Toronto