Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Scott Savoie
Meet Scott, aka Cheffie. Many of you may know him from Culinary Adventure Tours and now Toronto Food Tours. I first encountered Scott on a cold October day in 2015 walking down Queen St. It was a Sunday. He was surrounded by 8-10 people holding court near Jimmie Simpson park. We didn’t talk, but I ‘suspected’ he was giving some kind of tour. At first I thought it was a Jane’s Walk, then realized it wasn’t May. It wasn’t until March of this year when I was interviewing Jo-Anne Cameron, who had worked for Culinary Adventure Tours, that my guess was half right. It was a tour. A food tour.
The youngest of 7 kids, Scott hails from Campbelltown, New Brunswick. His family was so poor he remembers their idea of milk was this. “Add a spoonful of carnation evaporated to a glass. Add water and stir. 3. Keep adding water until you can see your brother through the glass. It was a luxury to go my friend’s house and drink milk from a bag!”. Knowing he didn’t want that life at a young age, Scott took a job after school at a local restaurant sweeping the sidewalk and cleaning windows. He was 12. It was his school friends that coined the nickname ‘Cheffie’; clearly a prophecy. At the age of 17, Scott and his mom opened Taste Buds Ice Cream in a trailer and at the age of 20, he owned his first restaurant, ‘Scotties’. From there his road to ‘chefdom’ took some interesting turns. His first chef job was at Jill’s Steak House in New Brunswick, where he met his wife Sylvie, 18 years his senior. “Sylvie had left her husband for me, so in small town New Brunswick you don’t stick around for the fallout, so we left for Montreal in 1988 and set up home there”. The marriage lasted a few years, but Scott stayed in Montreal for close to 13 years. As well as cooking, he sold cooking equipment and got to know every aspect of the restaurant business while in Montreal. In 2002, he returned to New Brunswick. With some help from investors, he opened several restaurants in the following few years, but the investors turned out to be swindlers and not only did he lose the restaurants, he almost lost his house.
Scott had come to know many people in the area and people in the biz. Around the time he was struggling to keep the house and his businesses going, he was approached by a contact regarding a chef’s job at a fishing lodge in northern Manitoba for the season. He went. “Omg, do I have stories. All I’ll say about this place was when I arrived, the bossman gave me a gun and a baseball bat and said ‘You’ll use both of these by the time you’re through the season’. I was like Whaaat???, but he was right, he laughs, I did. It saved my life”. This amazing adventure led to several more ‘Lodge Gigs’. One, as a wild game chef at a Pheasant Lodge in South Dakota, a deer ranch in Iowa where he came to know such celebrities as Jeff Foxworthy (Comedian), Stevie Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Richard Childress (of Nascar fame) and last but not least and probably the most interesting of all, Dan Duncan, the richest oil tycoon in Texas. “He sent me by private jet to buy some wine. ‘Don’t spend more than $250’ he said. $250 dollars? Scott asked. ‘No, $250,000.’ Seriously. For one weekend”. The stories are too long to print here, but if you ever bump into Scott, he’s not short of any. Treat him to a beer and you’re set!
The lodge stints paid handsomely, but put pressure on his relationship back in New Brunswick. He saved the house, but not marriage #2. So, in 2009, he left for Toronto (Richmond Hill), home of his sister, Barb. He picked up work in short order. After spying an ad in the paper for a teacher at the Culinary Arts Centre in Richmond Hill, he applied, got the job and for the next year taught Culinary Fundamentals at the Centre.
Despite this new experience, Scott longed to be back in the city and kept returning to his favorite places in Riverdale, Little Italy, Danforth, Leslieville and downtown for new eats and wines and one night on a ‘calamari crawl’ through Greektown, saw the potential to take others along with him. In 2010 he pioneered the food tour industry in Toronto and in partnership, began Culinary Adventure Tours. It took roughly three years to get off the ground and was a great success.
Through a turn of events, (the business was pulled out from under him), Scott parted ways with the company in 2015. A turbulent time, it also led to a stroke in Dec, 2015. Three months of recuperation in the hospital and Scott was a free (and lucky) man. His mobility and speech returned and in no time he was back out in the city, eating out (more healthy choices now) and champing at the bit to get back to work.
In April of this year, with his publican partner John Anderson, he started Toronto Food Tours, which runs in eleven neighbourhoods throughout Toronto including Leslieville, Riverdale, Corktown, Little India, The Distillery, St. Lawrence Market and Old Town.
Scott’s stories about the city, let alone the good food you’re likely to eat, would be reason enough to join one of his tours. He has endless anecdotes about Toronto and its history plus he has a policy of giving back. This year, The Riverside Antler Breakfast at Ralph Thornton, which feeds the homeless, will be happening mid December and he’s in his 5th year being involved with the Rivertowne breakfast programme, which feeds 75 kids every week.
Scott is a force to be reckoned with. Funny, interesting, talented (he’s self-taught) and social, he’s the perfect recipe for success in the food tour biz. As I write he’s getting his ideas in order for future tours which include a winefest, vegetarian/vegan/gluten free tours, and hooking up with Tourism Toronto.
To find out more about Scott and Toronto Food Tours go to www. tofoodtours.com
Older pics contributed by Scott Savoie