Dream Team: Restaurant Pangaea

Owner: Peter Geary
Chef/Co-Owner: Martin Kouprie

There is a certain emotional chemistry that occurs when two like-minded people discover that they share the same philosophy. In the early ’90s, Martin Kouprie was the chef at Jump, and Peter Geary was ably managing Auberge du Pommier. When a new system was being put in place, Kouprie asked Geary to stop by and lend a hand. During a busy lunch, a diner made a special request and was refused—the kitchen was too busy. Kouprie and Geary looked at each other for a moment—and fulfilled the request anyway. After lunch, the two men spoke, and Kouprie thanked Geary for reminding him of what they both believed. At that moment, the relationship was cemented. Pangaea opened in 1996, serving globally inspired cuisine with local organic ingredients and sustainable seafood, and continues to hold a special place in our dining out landscape.

Sara Waxman: You have been partners since you opened Pangaea.

Peter Geary: We share the same philosophies. Right from the beginning.

SW: And that’s what you continue to do.

Martin Kouprie: Exactly. There’s nothing too large or too small. When customers come in and they don’t see what they like, or they have special dietary restrictions, we just tell them to look at the menu and treat that as a list of ingredients and tell us what they would like to eat and we prepare it for them.

SW: And today, everyone has dietary restrictions.

MK: More and more. I have a nut allergy and so does Peter’s wife. So, we understand allergies better than some chefs do. Also, diets and all kinds of ailments are affecting people. And as the population ages, they can handle garlic less, so you have to be careful where you’re putting in the garlic. So we’re reading and we’re studying, and we’re reacting to what people need.

SW: It seems your roles are clearly defined: Martin, you’re in the kitchen and Peter, you’re in the front of the house. Do you overlap?

PG: Some partnerships where there’s a huge amount of overlap, don’t work very well. Martin is clearly a creative force in terms of menu design; he’s also got architecture in his background so he does all the building stuff. I’m manning the front, I look after all the financials and make sure we’re keeping our head above water. And I think it’s good. Because I hope I never interfere with what he’s doing. I mean, we’ll make observations of one to the other about maybe a dish that I’ve had or maybe Martin sees something, some aspect of the service that we need to fine-tune. I think we’re very responsive to each other.

SW: And your waiters have longevity—there are waiters here that even remember no dairy for me! And that’s great. But in an industry that is so transient, longevity is a phenomenon.

MK: It wasn’t like that when we first opened in ’96. You’re at the mercy of the waiters that are unemployed or ones that aren’t happy in their current establishments. It took us a few years to find people who understood that we were a trusted commodity. Because they’ve got mortgages, they’ve got families. They don’t want to go to any fly-by-night restaurant. So, the good ones waited it out and they’ve been with us ever since. And we don’t have any part-timers, they’re all full time.

PG: I think what’s important is that you create a working environment that goes along with our philosophy. I don’t believe that you get the best out of anyone by shouting at them. I think you get the best out of people by coaching them and encouraging them. And certainly in the dining room you don’t want people walking around nervous. You want people to approach the table with confidence and knowledge and to be able to communicate the specials, new wines, etc. And the dining experience is, hopefully, elevated.

SW: Is there anything that you feel, when a new client comes in, you want to convey to that person?

PG: What I would like is for the new guest to have a feeling that this is our home away from home. When you open the door to Pangaea, you’re coming in to our home. So, just as you go to somebody’s home as a guest, you would expect them to take your coat…

SW: And feel welcome.

PG: And we’ve always believed that our style is relaxed, and I want people to walk in and feel that they can relax. And allow the service to follow through with that. So, by the time that new guest sees the service, and the food— and, well, we had a new guest the other day who shook my hand on the way out and said: everything that I thought that I would get at Pangaea, I got and more!

Pangaea, 1221 Bay St., Toronto
(416) 920-2323

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