by Kylie Meyermann
5 Questions with John Maxwell
Good Food Fighter, John Maxwell is the owner of the Danforth’s most renowned Irish-American inspired saloon, Allen’s.
Allen’s first opened its doors in 1987 and over the years has garnered impressive reviews, each amicably agreeing that the saloon offers guests a genuine Irish/American/Torontonian experience that is no way cheap or diluted. It won the Distinguished Restaurants of North America’s inaugural Legendary Landmark award last fall, has featured an all VQA wine list for decades, and is thought by many to have the best hamburger to be found south of Steeles, between the Rouge and Credit rivers, amongst other distinctions.
GFR: What does the idea of good food mean to you?
JM: In a restaurant context, good food means to me good ingredients cooked in a way that allow the ingredients to display themselves and show through.
In a broader context, good food to me speaks of how the food is grown. How the food is grown has an enormous impact on how food tastes. I don’t think that taste can be separated from agricultural ethics or practices at all.
It is absolutely essential that good food in the broadest context be food that is grown in soil, treated properly from seed or stock and is not a form of extensional commercial farming.
GFR: Does your philosophy of good food at Allen’s also apply to your life at home?
JM: Well, I got into the restaurant business through my devotion to cooking, and I started in the restaurant business in the kitchen. My devotion to good food is perfectly manifested by my love for food at home.
GFR: What was the driving force that brought you to the kitchen?
JM: It was at the age of four, where I woke up one Saturday morning and said to myself that I would hence forth do the cooking for my family, and proceeded to begin.
It wasn’t a decision that was met with complete approval by those in power. However, I was allocated one meal a week which I did from the age of four. By the age of sixteen I was cooking for large groups frequently, and I got my first restaurant job as assistant chef at the age of seventeen. I have worked in the restaurant industry ever since.
GFR: Do you remember what that first meal you cooked at the age of four?
JM: Yes, I believe that it was from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook and it was a breakfast item that involved shredded chicken with carrot, onion celery and onion in a cream sauce served on toast.
GFR: What can your customers look forward to from Allen’s in the future?
JM: My ambition in the restaurant business is not to revolutionize but to maintain what I have been doing these many years. Although I opened my first restaurant in Toronto in 1979, I began to work directly with suppliers in 1985 at my restaurant Orso. That is when I started getting my connections in Ontario and started touring the countryside in search of food, and it is something that I will continue to do for as long as the public remains interested in what I’m doing.