The Man Behind Charlie’s Burger
He’s not just the ingenious man behind the unique underground dining club in Toronto, but also a great conversationalist and a good connoisseur of the hospitality industry. He’s Franco Stalteri, the father of Charlie’s Burger.
By Carmen Gómez-Cotta
As Franco Stalteri perfectly explains, Charlie’s Burger is “a series of dinners with high-profile chefs from the best restaurants all around the world that put together unique menus that are perfectly paired with wines”.
Don’t look for a restaurant with a fixed address, though, since this train of banquets happen each time in a different location. Charlie’s Burger is “the Anti-Restaurant”, as says the website itself. Franco goes on explaining that to be a part of this gathering all you have to do is fill out an online questionnaire and then you wait to receive an email detailing the date, time, cost and the instructions on how to get to the secret spot.
The questions that are asked on that questionnaire are a guideline for the chefs “to get a better idea of who you are, what you like and how we’ll be able to offer you the best possible experience”, he says. And once you are there, be ready for an adventure of flavours, tastes and aromas as you have ever had before.
Charlie’s Burger is more than just going out for dinner. It is more like being on a play where the characters -chefs, sommeliers and waiters in this case- are playing their roles according to a delightful screenplay, and everything is being acted out perfectly for you to let yourself go and enjoy. Franco himself serves at every Charlie’s dinner as a waiter and makes sure that everyone is getting the full experience.
Pairing is important when you want to provide the best dining experience. As he explains, at Charlie’s Burger dinners you will always find four sommeliers and one wine director on staff. “We focus on offering very good wines, needless to say the food. We always import a lot of chefs who are able to put together an exceptional menu and we also import most of the wines. That’s why we decided more than two years ago to create another side of the company that focuses on sourcing, buying and importing different wines from interesting and unique wine producers all over the world”.
The result of that decision is the CB Wine Program that offers their members not just fascinating and peerless wine delivery service across Ontario, but also speciality wines that are created exclusively for the CB Wine Program. “Every month we feature a different wine producer from around the world, it can be near or far, but always from a region where interesting and genuine wine makers are producing amazing and unique wines” Franco says.
With every monthly case of wine, CB provides full details about the vinery, the producers or what makes the wine unique, and they also pick up two restaurants in the city where you are able to take the CB wine and not be charged for corkage. “CB’s philosophy is encouraging new experiences, educating in new and different things, making it easier for Torontonians to go out dining and get unique experiences”.
Charlie’s Burger experience is something that attracts people not just from Ontario but from outside of Canada. With a big smile on his face, he relates that “in spring this year we organized a dinner with Chef James Henry, from the Parisian restaurant Bones, and there was a guy from San Francisco who wrote us saying that he was willing to come if we reserved him three seats, which of course we did”.
Having heard that someone from San Francisco is asking for a reservation, made me think if Toronto is a food destination? To which Franco replies that not yet “although it is on the right path in becoming a much more popular international destination. We have the solid dining inventory that a food destination needs -great restaurants, interesting chefs, different and tasty menus, good products, a better service- plus we’re growing and finding our voice and own identity which, ironically, is made by many different identities. In Toronto we have a lot of cultures living together, and that is by far our best asset”.
In order to become a ‘food destination’, Franco thinks “we need to educate and broadcast to the world that Toronto is a great place to come to visit. We don’t benefit that much from tourism. There are many cities that have a great revenue stream from the tourists in terms of restaurants, and the money can be put it in the local market. The majority of our market is local so we have to keep them engaged, keep them dining out and coming back but that’s very hard”, he points out.
Toronto’s challenges are attracting tourism to the city and its restaurants, keeping Torontonians engaged, and working on making the hospitality sector respectable. “The hospitality industry is a very big part of Toronto’s economy and we need to assure that it can be a long term career choice for people”, Franco says, and he reckons that although the industry is becoming more accepted and a respectable profession, “we still need to work on making it a sustainable career choice. Those who are aging, for instance, we need to keep them engaged and involved because the value and the worth of experience and knowledge that they can bring to the industry is invaluable”.
Franco knows the value of practice and wisdom. Before being fully dedicated to Charlie’s Burger two years ago, he worked for a hospitality headhunting firm that specialized in fine dining and luxury lodging where he got the chance to work with some of the top chefs in the world and learn by first hand from the best.
Through this learning process he realized that, generally speaking, chefs and sous-chefs didn’t have the space and opportunity to unleash their creativity and invent menus of their own. And this vision plus his passion for fine food and excellent wine were the grounds of Charlie’s Burger, ranked by the American magazine Food & Wine the “3rd best food experience in the world”. Do you want to try it? http://www.charliesburgers.ca/