Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico-born Luis Valenzuela had a passion for food at an early age. Luis immigrated to Toronto in 2001 to study the culinary arts at George Brown College where he quickly developed his own unique style and flair, embracing traditional methods while staying true to his Latin roots. He then went on to Toronto’s notable North 44 and Bymark restaurants, working with renowned Chef Owner Mark McEwan and Executive Chef Brooke McDougall and Andrew Ellerby.
Luis continued to work under influential leaders who helped shape his culinary style. His travels took him to Europe where he worked under Chef Bruno Barrbieri in Verona, Italy and Chef Adolfo Munoz in Toldeo, Spain. After returning to Toronto, Luis became Head Chef at Café Cinquecento in 2006, and quickly rose through the culinary scene and became Executive Chef at Torito Tapas Bar in 2007. Throughout these experiences, Luis has been able to create balance by contributing back to the community through meaningful charitable causes and campaigns.
In 2012, he became Co-Owner and Executive Chef of Carmen Cocina Espanola, offering Toronto Spanish-inspired cuisine paired with Luis’ bold influence. In 2013, Carmen received a nomination as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants by Enroute Magazine.
Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done with Branding and Buzzing.
Branding & Buzzing have been instrumental in spreading Carmen’s message and promoting our vision and have done a lot of different events with them. I first worked with B&B on the Estrella Damm Tapas Journey. It was an amazing opportunity not only to showcase what we do to a greater audience, but also to connect with peers and people that I admire.
What are some of the challenges you face working in the restaurant social media space?
One of the challenges I face is finding the time on a busy schedule to actually get on social media. It is easy to get in a cycle of posting things that are not relevant or that only serve your ego, it is difficult to sell what you do from a meaningful spectrum. Another challenge that I face is receiving feedback on social media. I feel at times that I am at disadvantage because written word can lack an emotional element therefore not allowing me to understand fully what is written, so I tend to take things personally.
What do you think makes owning a restaurant in Toronto different?
There is a lot of competition that we face in Toronto and I believe everyone is trying to do their very best every day, which in return makes it a very delicious city to go out and eat! At my restaurant, we try not to be the flavour of the month but the flavour that you constantly crave. Toronto is the epicentre of the culinary revolution in Canada (that of course may seem bias to Toronto, but I cannot deny my love for this city!)
How do you see Social Marketing evolving in the next few years?
I think social media will continue to grow and that there is a lot of benefit from it. I also believe that professional food critics will be affected by this very change. You see, social media has given power to the masses and democratized the food scene; these days, the majority of reviews for a restaurant come from social media more than the ones that come from one single source. Another benefit that I perceive is the immediate interaction with your costumers. But of course, nothing comes with all gains. We are paying a high price for all of this because of social media, everyone is a brand and as such you have to work 24 hours, 7 days a week.
What do you do when you aren’t cooking?
I enjoy my days off spending time with my girlfriend Maia and my dog Luna. We love going for long walks around the different neighbourhoods that this city has to offer, as well as the beautiful green paths (or white, depending on the season) like the Don Valley and the Evergreen Brick Works. I love going to the country side to antique shops and finding places to hike. I love reading outside as the sun sets and since the restaurant has made me a night owl, I really enjoy looking at the sky through a telescope. There is something so beautiful about the silence of the city as I star gaze from the back yard of my house.
To read more about Luis’ working journey in the restaurant industry, visit Restobiz.