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Antonio Park: 10 Years to Celebrate

Antonio-Park---Cover---Photo--Louis-Prud'homme

Without a doubt, sushi seems to become a staple in Canadians’ dining habits. Although, we are not always served excellence at the end of our chopsticks. The star of our celebration-theme edition is Mr. Antonio Park, owner of the eponymous restaurant, PARK, has brought excellence in the art form of sushi for the last 10 years. This excellence followed him around the globe, even showcased in menus for Air Canada International Flights. Let’s find out more about this humble genius of Japanese cuisine. An article originally published in our Gentologie Magazine Issue 10 (a great gift to give).

 

Commemorating 10 Years

Omakase-Sashimi---Park-Restaurant

Omakase Sashimi
Photo: Park Restaurant

Owning a restaurant was naturally part of Antonio Park’s journey, but building it from the ground up was no easy feat. He had his handful of stress before opening the restaurant’s doors on March 1, 2012. On top of startup challenges, he had to deal with several personal challenges, like illnesses. However, in his opinion, it was the price to pay for offering people something different. Through the storm, he kept laser focus on his goals and prevailed. “Several people would tell me: ‘Is there only one maki on the menu? One maki won’t cut it. People don’t prefer sashimi or nigiri to maki.’ I responded that I will bring to life what I had in mind. I know it can work and it’s also the perfect timing to educate sushi lovers on how to appreciate this exceptional food,” said Mr. Park. Many of us do not necessarily manage to recognize the technique behind every little piece of fish that ends up on our plate. “Finding the perfect rice takes a lot of time. You have to understand the product. Even today, I try to understand it. That’s the intriguing side of it: to try to find harmony with the ingredients, to navigate the different varieties, not to mention to deal with the seasonal temperature changes and the different costs. It becomes a daily challenge to maintain the exact same rice all year round, but it gives me the chance to learn.”

Antonio Park, of course, is true to his own style, which definitely left a mark in the entire sushi industry. He says he is proud to have inspired his colleagues to bring better products to the table. “I don’t necessarily mean that I’m the creator, but I learned from the best, I travelled and I tried.” You may be wondering why Antonio Park’s sushi has toppings. Contrarily to some beliefs, it’s not at all to innovate, to be different or to go above and beyond. The tradition was passed down from his mother. “My mother, when I was young, would give me a spoon of rice, then she would top it with kimchi and meat before sticking everything in my mouth. Whether we like it or not, our youth is always connected with our tastes and emotions. I can’t erase what my mother did on a daily basis. So, I thought to myself, I want to create the perfect topping for my nigiri. I put together the rice, the fish, the soy sauce, which is really very important, and topped it off with a garnish.” For the chef, each piece of sushi must convey a different emotion. 

Having grown up in South America, in Argentina more precisely, Antonio’s recipes exude a flair of inspiration from the culture of tapas and, according to him, the nigiri is the Japanese counterpart to the Spanish appetizer. Mr. Park recommends that we should listen to the chefs and feel how the dishes visually tell us how to enjoy them. However, the renowned chef has no problem with his customers eating his creations in their own ways, especially since they have different cultures and ways of life, but even if he says there is no wrong way to do things, he would love it if we tried his method.

Eat Well, for Yourself and for our Future

Asian-Salad---Park-Restaurant

1 salad — 21 ingredients
Antonio Park’s famous 21-ingredient salad has been on the menu since the beginning. It is entirely made by hand, because
the machines remove the salt from the vegetables, it is delicious
and full of texture. A definite must try.
Photo : Park Restaurant

As we chatted, like the perfect gentleman he is, Antonio offered me something to eat. For him, his guests must be fed. While our past food choices have contributed to the extinction of ​certain underwater species in the past, we have a renewed awareness of the products that end up on our plates. Mr. Park was telling me that change stems from us. “Adding quotas is really a very good thing. On the other hand, there are no physical boundaries between the various oceans, and if you move only an hour away from the coast, there seems to be very low oversight. We must find solutions to protect our natural resources, not for us, but for future generations.” Interestingly, at PARK, aquaculture and sustainable fish are the stars of the menu, and the team adapts their craft seasonally. Moreover, in his future menus, the chef wants to display the name of the fisherman, the site where the fish was raised as well as the date of arrival and the price. Speaking of, we cannot forget to mention the king of sushi menus, the salmon. The Ora King, an aquaculture product from New Zealand, is probably one of the best species for chefs and Mr. Park definitely endorses it. Know that you can get this salmon at La Mer Fish Market if you want to have a taste.

Pairings for Success at PARK , Antonio Park’s namesake restaurant

In order for you to have the perfect meal, the team at PARK is dedicated to update their wine and cocktail offering. The bar manager, Loïc Fortin, and the team of sommeliers are of great help in finding drink pairings that may seem out of the ordinary, but complement impeccably the food menu. Mr. Park sets himself the goal of never cutting corners, it is his model for success: “It is our duty to seek the best ingredients and to not focus on the price of these, out of respect for our customers.” 

The renowned chef continually improves his skills. He hates the word “Perfection”, he much prefers the word “Mastery”, because, according to him, you can always add more strings to your bow. In his eyes, we cannot be perfect, there will always be something else that we can reach for. You can truly feel his humility when he says he doesn’t want to be the number one restaurant: “I’d rather be in last place than number one, because the only thing I would see is the steps to ascend.” 

An Air Canada chef

Mr. Park, modest man that he is, does not like to be under the spotlights. For him, being a chef on Air Canada’s business class flights is simply another step, another lesson. He works with Air Canada to ensure his menu is perfectly executed, then, the most difficult part for him, he leaves it all in the company’s hands. However, Antonio is optimistic and tells us that we will see a lot of changes in airplane food over the next few years. He insists on aligning people’s experience with his food, whether they are aboard Air Canada’s ships or seated at his restaurant. 

A Mouthful of Projects for Antonio Park

A new restaurant in Toronto and two others in Montréal, located at Curio Vogue Montréal, including a second Café Bazin and the Yama, opening in early 2023, which will feature a menu meddling the chef’s different cultures, are just a glimpse of the chef’s projects. He also worked a lot on a cross-Canada tour with Louis XIII Cognac that you can find at PARK restaurant’s bar. All that said, you will definitely hear about Antonio Park this summer across the country, there is no doubt about it. 

Despite the last two tumultuous years related to the pandemic, Mr. Park did not sit on his reputation and knew how to develop several projects. A man of thousands, if not millions projects, he recently set up his range of take-out treats, including honey, maple syrup and, of course, a variety of Asian products. As a great businessman, he knows that his business must have a passive income source, which is why he developed this project.

Life and Entrepreneurship Lessons

The chef is really a very simple person as I said above, he firmly believes that you have to work hard to succeed. “Everything you do in life should have meaning. You can’t do things that don’t make sense, otherwise you will fail. If what you do in life has value, you can build on the work done and success will eventually follow.”

 

About loving one’s work: “If it’s not what you want to do for work, you have to find what drives you. Don’t stay here. By staying at the restaurant, not only will you be miserable, you will also make the rest of the team miserable. If you are happy, you will spread the happiness around you.” 

And about failure? “You have to make your own mistakes and fail. Then you’ll know. If it was not you who made the mistake and failed, you will blame it on others. Live your life, make mistakes on your own. If you follow another person’s footsteps, it will never be your mistake. Accepting failure is the beginning of the road to success.”

Questions from Gentologie to Antonio Park

Gentologie-Magazine-Issue-10--600px

The Gentologie Magazine Issue 10 Cover
Photo: Louis Prud’homme

How would you define a gentleman?

He is someone who stands up for women (daughters, mothers, female friends, etc.), and who must put others before him. For example: If you  are eating and a friend joins you, you ask him if he is hungry. If he is,  I share my meal with him, sharing is extremely important. He is also someone who listens to others. In addition, a gentleman must, among other things, be well dressed and groomed. That’s the last step! 

What is your favourite city in the world, and why?

Montréal. I can’t tell why, I guess my blood is here. When my plane  lands here, all my stress flies away, and I feel good. Montréal is the best city in the world, period. 

Any favourite restaurant?

My mother’s kitchen. It’s very exclusive, but I love it. 

What about a favourite bar?

I actually have two. The Cloakroom in Montréal is small and cozy.  Le Chamber in Seoul feels like home when I’m there. 

Favourite car brand?

I drive a Mercedes-Benz GLS and I love it. I really like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan too, a friend of mine owns one and it is beautiful. I love big, strong vehicles. 

Favourite airline?

I love Qatar Airways, they offer exceptional service. It’s impressive.  They make you feel like home. 

Favourite place(s) to travel to? 

I have several: Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Tokyo. These places feel  like home to me.

Your favourite spots to shop?

I love shopping for watches. I would love to be able to collaborate with one of my favourite brands, Richard Mile. I also have a large collection  of shoes and I like clothes from Lacoste, Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew.

Where do you go to disconnect? 

Home to my youngest son. Or to the beach. I’m learning to disconnect from work, it’s hard, but I’m working on it. 

Something that is essential to your life? 

My children. My family.

 

Bluefin-Tuna-Tataki---Park-Restaurant

Bluefin Tuna Tataki
Spice Rub, coriander emulsion, puff quinoa and wild rice
Photo: Park Restauran

And so we close the loop in this magnificent interview with Antonio Park by ending where we started, with family. The impact of this entrepreneur’s childhood on his success is simply incredible. We had a long conversation punctuated by silences that made us realize just how busy and fragile  life is for a restaurant builder who has been in business for more than 10 years now.

To visit Antonio Park, Park Restaurant in Montréal, it’s here

For its new location in Toronto, AP Restaurants, it’s this way

Get the Gentologie Magazine Issue 10 with Antonio Park on the cover

President, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Gentologie.