TrepFuel Presents CULTIVATE | Q&A w/ Chef + Entrepreneur Adrian Forte

Chef Adrian Forte’s first home was Kingston, Jamaica. Born on February 29th, 1988 – a leap year – and the year hurricane Gilbert slammed into Jamaica, seems to have foretold of an eventful and accelerated journey, starting with the split of his parents when he was just six.

His mom, a school teacher, knew Adrian’s future would be limited in Jamaica, so at 12, he was sent to live with his grandmother, a chef, in New York City. Two years later, her sudden death would leave him with few options: go back to Jamaica or head north to his
dad’s home in Ajax, Ontario.

He chose Canada; his choice would prove to be the right one, but for a teenager missing his mom and grannie, fitting in with his father’s new family was hard. In fact, it just never quite gelled. But he had a passion: football, and he threw himself into it. Big and strong, and good enough that he’d caught the attention of college level scouts, an encounter with a rival’s helmet shattered his wrist and his professional aspirations.

“I knew that dream was over. I sat on the sofa watching TV and getting fat.” He was hooked on the Food Network. Soon he started buying cookbooks, and experimenting in his dad’s kitchen.
“I used to make all sorts of crazy recipes I’d see on TV or in books, and feed them to my family, but they just never really supported me in my dream, so I moved out, got a job and enrolled at George Brown College.”

Working fulltime while studying fulltime took a ton of drive, determination, and energy; good thing Adrian has plenty of all three. It’s that same drive and quality of character he brings to all of his projects: catering, consulting, or building his own hospitality empire. 

As for his culinary style, he says; “Even though I was born somewhere else, I consider myself a Contemporary Canadian Chef who cooks Caribbean fusion…” and, because his maternal Grandmother called Venezuela home, “…with a hit of South American flavour.” It’s this mosaic of flavours, histories, and recipes that make him a contemporary Canadian chef in the truest sense; creating delicious harmonies with local ingredients, time-honoured techniques, and traditions from away.

At The Dirty Bird, Adrian’s flagship restaurant in Toronto’s trendy Kensington Market neighbourhood, Canadian cuisine means perfectly crispy Northern-fried chicken and waffles – dusted with salt, pepper, and maple. And as simple as the menu may look at first glance; look a little closer and you’ll see that Adrian has taken great care in creating
the recipes and sourcing the ingredients.

“The chicken is small farm Ontario-raised and hand-slaughtered. My business partner keeps Halal and I was impressed by the quality and the care that goes into the processing of the animal; it’s very mindful. For me, it’s all about respecting the ingredient, though, I explore and cook well outside of the Halal box too!” Sourcing quality, Canadian ingredients from the cabbage in their tangy slaw to the maple syrup for drizzling on fluffy, hot, a la minute waffles, it’s all fresh, local, and handmade.

The rave reviews are rolling in: Voted NOW Magazine's Toronto's Best Fried Chicken, named Best Sandwich Shop in Toronto by, and chosen as Best New Restaurant for Fried Chicken in Toronto by blogTO! Adrian has appeared on Food Network Canada’s Chef in Your Ear, Season Two of Food Network Canada’s Chopped Canada, as well as several noted national television appearances demonstrating his skill and creativity.

Adrian’s future is as promising and exciting as the future of Canadian cuisine; with his boundless energy, in this young place alive with fresh ideas, and a unique and diverse bounty from every corner of the earth, the sky’s the limit.

Adrian is finally home – in this country, his city, his kitchens – but the journey he started at the age of nine continues.

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Camera - Luis Soza + Brione Wishart
Editor - Brione Wishart