B Corporation, Bistro 990, Chris Klugman, Christopher Hume, Culinary technique and whimsy, Evergreen, Joy of Cooking, Live Jazz at the Paintbox Bistro, Mitchell Cohen, Orange meringue pie, Oro, Paintbox Bistro and Catering, Regent Park, Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas, Summerhill Market, Toronto Symphony, Winston's
Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog, ‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note’
Today, we’re taking afternoon tea, virtually, with Chris Klugman. Chris is a chef, a sommelier, a professional photographer, a professor, and as president of Paintbox Bistro and Catering, a social entrepreneur. And he’s a mentor to many and a community leader. After a stellar career as opening chef, chef, or executive chef at Toronto culinary landmarks such as Bistro 990, Oro, Winston’s and Summerhill Market, the opportunity to provide meaningful support to a community in rebirth led Chris to establish Paintbox Catering and Bistro.
The re-born community is Regent Park, a “Failed post-war social housing experiment that had outlived its theory,” said Christopher Hume, Canada’s pre-eminent urban renewal and architecture journalist, in the Toronto Star. Hume continues, “As Toronto’s most successful city-building effort in more than 30 years, the Regent Park remake is one of few projects in which we can all take pride. Not since … the 1970s has local officialdom managed to pull off such a bold and innovative scheme. When done, it will have improved the lives of thousands of low-income tenants and made the city a better place. The solution, simple but brilliant, … rebuild the neighbourhood on a mixed-income, mixed-use basis.”
Paintbox Bistro is a certified B Corporation – a new kind of social enterprise harnessing the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. It’s is a global movement to redefine success in business – success in its most fundamental meaning. These corporations meet higher standards of social and environmental performance and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders, including the environment.
Chef Chris likes Earl Grey tea – black and on the stronger side. Her Ladyship (that would be me) pours the first cup for herself, as she prefers her tea on the weaker side. The tea leaves continue to steep for another minute, a second cup of tea is offered and the conversation begins.
You were a chef at some of Toronto’s most blue chip establishments; why did you transition to a B Corporation enterprise?
I’ve been moving into the field for a while with Evergreen, an organization devoted to mobilizing action to green cities – in fact its motto is ‘green cities, healthy planet’. When conceiving Paintbox Bistro, I was researching charities and while doing this research, I came across B Corporations. It’s a good model and in keeping with the Regent Park redevelopment.
What are the steps to become a certified B Corporation?
Fairly straightforward but not easy. We had to recognize all constituents in our articles of incorporation. Then we moved forward based on the social and environmental principles of B Corporations. We had to be open and operational for six months to walk the talk, then Paintbox Bistro and Catering got its B Corporation certification.
How do you put into practice the principles of a B Corporation?
We provide employment, training, and career development to residents of Regent Park and other close-by marginalized communities. Almost all our charming staff is from the neighbourhood or close by, and have been offered the opportunity to study in the Chefs programme at George Brown, one of North America’s top 10 culinary schools.
How would you describe the Paintbox Bistro?
A restaurant that strives to sustain a community’s hopes! A playful celebration of local abundance, full of inspiration from the community. It’s a balance of culinary technique and whimsy. Paintbox prides itself in being innovative, offering food and service that is unfamiliar to Toronto, and truly thinking outside of the box! Paintbox doesn’t aspire to be trendy; we are a high volume restaurant producing beautiful dishes and maintaining a strong social mandate. Paintbox is an expression of what is going on in Regent Park – we empower those who have become isolated.
Where did the name “Paintbox” come from?
The name relates to the organization we are; the name connotes creativity, fun and a large amount of playfulness. It’s really the nature of our enterprise. It’s also the name of the condo building we’re in.
When did you decide to become a chef?
It came about in my 20’s – I was living in the country and growing food and raising meat and by the by, I became a freelance chef.
How do you make the life of a restaurateur less stressful?
Haven’t figured out that just yet!
What is your go to method to cheer yourself up?
At this time year, it’s got to be gardening.
What skill would you like to learn?
My music ability – the Paintbox is also a live music venue with vibrant music offerings in the evenings; it also has a reputation for live jazz, so I gained a lot of affinity and respect for musician.
What never fails to make you laugh?
The best criticism you received?
Feedback from my staff.
Toronto Symphony or Tegan and Sara?
I love the symphony but I tend to opera.
How do you celebrate big moments?
If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be?
What is your fondest childhood memory?
I have many memories, but I guess one of the best would be cooking an orange meringue pie from the Joy of Cooking at age 10.
What is your best adventure ever?
Three years ago I went on a trip to Scandinavia and Russia – awesome.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m a Clamato juice junkie.
What is the best surprise you’ve ever had?
An incident that changed my life. I was working in a restaurant in the early 80’s and a new cook was hired to assist me. She kissed me at end of the shift – she’s now my wife Mimi.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
What is your favourite virtue?
What is the principal aspect of your personality?
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
What is your idea of misery?
A tragedy that could be avoided.
What is your idea of happiness?
Making difference in some else’s life.
While sipping a second cup of Earl Grey, Her Ladyship wishes Chris well and promises to dine, and catch a show, at the Paintbox Bistro very soon.