Cooking up Comfort—for Both the Hedonist and the Health-conscious
At the Thompson Diner located at Thompson Toronto, Chef Mark Caskenette has introduced a new menu that will appeal to the entire neighborhood. A former head chef at New York City’s Plaza Hotel, Caskenette brings over 15 years of experience to his Toronto kitchen. Now, he’s updating quintessential diner food in order to mirror the King West District’s diversity. Whatever your definition of “comfort food,” at least one of his creations should appeal. Below, he discusses what to expect. Advance warning: your mouth might water.
The new “diner” menu has a particularly nostalgic feel—with a twist. What interests you about updating traditional diner favorites?
The King West District is the center of contemporary culture and, as the hub of the area, Thompson leads the way in setting trends. Being in tune with our residents and neighbors is key. King West is known for having the best restaurants and bars, but also has the most gyms and studios per block in the city. We aspired to create a Diner menu that reflected that, offering healthier, more sophisticated options that could appeal to customers craving comfort food with a modern twist. We wanted to make fully flavored, well-balanced dishes executed lightly, while keeping the diner favorites that everyone loves.
We hear the rice bowl is incredible. Tell us what makes it so special.
The Brown Rice Bowl is a dish that is both visually impressive and balanced among the five flavor profiles. Additionally, this is a complete, healthy dish that leaves guests feeling both satisfied and guilt free.
You worked at the Plaza Hotel in New York before moving to Toronto. How would you describe the major differences between diners in the two cities?
I found the diner culture in New York to be deeply rooted in tradition, with food selections wide-ranging and simply prepared. The diner scene in Toronto is much newer, so there are fewer expectations as to the direction of the food. When revamping the Thompson Diner menu, we used this as an opportunity to reach into Toronto’s famed multiculturalism and create dishes, such as the Bánh Mì Sandwich and Nashville Hot Chicken Wings, which showcased less traditional items.
Name a menu item that would be perfect for the following types of guests, and describe why.
1. Deeply hungover: During the late-night service, where guests are either hungover or on their way to that state, our Truffle Mac & Cheese is a top-seller. The base dish is made up of pasta, Asiago and Aged Cheddar Cheese sauce, toasted bread crumbs, and truffle. The option to add bacon and crab takes this dish over the edge.
2. Picky eater: Our Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese are both house-made and delicious, but simply flavored to appeal to the most finicky eater.
3. Health-conscious, returning from the gym: One of our newly introduced dishes, the Quinoa & Veggies, provides a great balance of carbs and vitamins to help the post-gym recovery. The addition of steak, shrimp, chicken, or crab will give your muscles the extra protein they need.