Tucked in the heart of Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods area is the city’s only Caribbean-Asian soul food fusion restaurant, and our proud spotlight this month, Patois.
The name of the restaurant, the official language of Jamaica, reflects the cooking: a mix of great foods from all kinds of cultures, blended together to make even more incredible food. With dishes like jerk chicken chow mein, jerk pork belly yakisoba, prosperity jerk lobster, and deep-friend oxtail with rice, we see what they mean.
From humble beginnings in the homeland.
Owner and chef Craig Wong and his family go back three generations in Jamaica, where his grandmother would cook Jamaican food with Chinese ingredients and Chinese food with Jamaican ingredients. “That is how Patois came to life,” says Wong. “I saw it as all cultures that make Jamaica what it is, as so many have passed through. There is also a huge influx of Asian and Indian cuisine, and it’s very representative of the multiculturalism of Toronto.”
His family had a huge influence on his love for food, with his grandmother owning a few Jamaican cantinas and cafeterias, and his father owning several food-related businesses in Jamaica. Funnily enough, as much as his family was connected to food, “they had that Caribbean influence where you cook chicken for so long that you actually kill it twice,” Wong says.
From Jamaica, Wong went on to work in the world of fine dining specializing in French cuisine at three Michelin-starred restaurants before moving to Toronto and opening Patois.
Let’s talk about that food.
One of the restaurant’s faves, jerk chicken, was really inspired by Wong’s time in Paris. To keep it crispy, gold, and super juicy, he individually roasts their rotisserie jerk chicken so it carries the same texture and flavour. But before that, they dry it, marinate it overnight, and then cold smoke it. Next comes the glaze. Made with pineapple juice, ginger, garlic, and fresh thyme, they blend all those ingredients together to make the jerk glaze that gets dabbed on top of the chicken.
That’s what they do at Patois. “I don’t just think about how to cook a dish, I want to hit it on different notes and I want people to experience it in a different way. So yes it’s jerk chicken, but it’s not the jerk chicken we’re used to,” Wong says.
As for the one item on the menu they consider THE dish? Their Filet-O-Shrimp Bao. They blend cold butter and shrimp to make the rich batter that they dredge the shrimp patty in before frying it up. That tasty filet goes in a house-made steamed bao with a seaweed-based, marmalade-like sauce. And don’t forget their top-selling cocktail, rum punch. “We make our own, we have several different kinds of rum, coconut, guava, and pineapple,” Wong went on to say, “If you come to Patois and don’t order a rum punch, you are not doing it right.”
Good vibes, great clientele.
Having been in business for 7 years now, Patois attracts all walks of life, from grandmothers to 20-year-olds going on their first date to people who travel internationally to enjoy their food. And it’s a party every night.
They play reggae music with the combination of island cocktails and stir-fried noodle dishes, crispy fried chicken—and everything has to be rooted in that familiar difference. It all comes down to what his grandmother taught him: that food brings families and people closer together.
It wasn’t always easy but they persevered.
Even with an incredibly unique food offering, they weren’t without their missteps, especially in the beginning. “Opening day is one of the toughest things, you are never set up, no matter what, so much anxiety, and you have worked so hard to get to it”, says Wong.
His advice for others? It all comes down to staying true to your roots and always making sure guests enjoy themselves to the fullest. “It’s inevitable that we will have some hiccups along the way. But what we lack in preparedness, we make it up with charm and sincerity.”
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