In the world of culinary arts, where talent and perseverance are the key ingredients for success, one young chef’s journey from obscurity to international acclaim serves as a testament to the power of determination.
Joe Friday is that very chef — a restaurateur, and entrepreneur, with a rich background spanning nearly twenty years in the industry, featuring esteemed tenures at top restaurants in Canada and the US.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Japan, Friday’s educational path took him to the top-of-class graduation from The Culinary Institute of America in New York. His career began at age 20, as one of only ten people selected globally to train within the renowned Walt Disney World culinary program.
His work took him across Europe, Asia, and the United States, including notable stints at the French Laundry, under the mentorship of Thomas Keller; a role as a Saucier at Nobu in Honolulu; and serving as the Executive Sous Chef at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Over a decade ago, Friday relocated to Toronto, to participate in the opening of Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini’s groundbreaking venture, Luma at TIFF Bell Lightbox. His contributions extended to the launch of Bar Mozza, and he eventually ascended to part-owner and Executive Chef at ViaVai. Friday introduced the flavors of Hawaiian cuisine to Toronto, as part owner and chef of the poke restaurant, Calii Love.
In 2019, Friday inaugurated Friday Roots in Toronto, a tribute to his North Carolina roots, and ranked within BlogTo’s top 10 Toronto bars. It closed amid the pandemic.
His latest, and first solo restaurant venture, Friday Burger Company, was two and a half years in the making. It has two locations in Toronto: TABLE Fare + Social on the fourth floor of 81 Bay Street at CIBC Square, and 2162 Danforth Ave.
Throughout his illustrious career, Friday has had the privilege of privately preparing meals for diverse clientele, including professional athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and world leaders. He earned recognition from Toronto Life as one of their top private chefs to hire for holiday gatherings.
Pie caught up with the busy chef, to find out more about his career, life and ideas.
What was behind the creation of this new venture?
I’d always wanted to open a burger place. Lo and behold, one of the guys who came to the old restaurant was like ‘I want to invest in your restaurant. What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to open a burger place.’ I’ve eaten about 250 burgers in Canada and America. It was a lot of fun. I wanted this to look like a high-end butcher shop.
What differentiates your burger from anyone else?
There is a lot of Southern flare in my burger. I take a lot of spices from the South and incorporate them into the spice mix that goes on my burger when we season it on the grill. The sauce itself has a lot of Southern influence. It’s not so much heat, but it’s a spice associated with the South.
Why did you enter the culinary arts?
My grandfather was a chef. It always made me proud that he was a chef. But I wanted to be an athlete, a doctor, a plumber, so many different things other than a chef. Then, there was a moment in my life where I was like, ‘I think I’m good that this. I could do well at this, and make a living from this.’ So, I gave it a full try. I went to culinary school. It was because of my grandfather, and there were so much cooking around me all the time. My grandfather was who I could look up to, and see it was possible.
As a young chef, I worked at other restaurants where he was a chef. There were some older guys there who know my grandfather. They would talk all these glowing things about him, and that only made me want to pursue it more.
What are your best management skills?
Hiring people to do what needs to be done. Not micromanaging. Giving them space. Not looking over your shoulder. Not be overbearing to my staff. Give them the right tools; train them the right way, and backing off. I need my staff to be just as invested in this place as me.
I want to be an employer that cares about more than just the restaurant. I want to care about what’s going on in their lives. I want to be that kind of leader.
What’s your advice to young chefs?
Don’t show up to work to clock in. Take your work home. You can take that job of being a fry cook and end up owner of the restaurant one day. Only if you take your work home. What does that mean? You are a fry cook, but you know the guy over there is slicing fish. Figure out what the techniques are for that. Ask him about it the next day. Ask him why he does things the way he does.
I think every young professional should spend 45 minutes at home learning. I do it now. They say it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert.