Chef Brian Kanak
For Brian Kanak, the flavors of Michigan are reason enough to come home. After working in Philadelphia for eight years, the Great Lakes State native returned in 2010 and soon joined Toasted Oak Grill + Market in metropolitan Detroit, helping to develop and execute the pasture-to-fork philosophy embodied in the French-American bistro dishes. “The menu is full of fresh, clean flavors that capture the essence of Michigan’s farms,” says Kanak, who stepped into the executive chef role in February 2013 after working as sous chef and executive sous chef. “My goal is to interpret those products in such a way that they make our guests happy. That’s how you know you are doing it right.”
An experienced leader and manager, he also firmly believes the success of the restaurant lies in nurturing his kitchen staff. “I love hearing our staff’s ideas, theories, and philosophies,” he says. “I’ve hired them because I trust their abilities and value their input. I might be the conductor, but the cooks who produce the food are the ones who deserve the standing ovation.”
Prior to Toasted Oak, Kanak was executive chef of Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center (now the Wells Fargo Center). There he oversaw the Cadillac Grille, a private-membership restaurant located on the club level, as well as the catering for sporting and other events at the arena. Before that, he worked for restaurateur Stephen Starr at Buddakan and El Vez. Kanak originally relocated to Philadelphia for a corporate chef-trainer position with the Capital Grille, overseeing the launch of new restaurants in markets including Kansas City, KS, and Tyson’s Corner, VA.
Kanak’s interest in the restaurant industry began when he was 15 and would regularly dine at Ginopoli’s in Farmington Hills, MI. The owner, Peter Ginopoli, particularly inspired him with his dedication to outstanding service, taking time to really interact with guests. Kanak took a position as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, working his way up to server before the general manager suggested he try stepping behind the stove. It didn’t take long for Kanak to “completely fall in love” with cooking and embark on his career path. “Since I did not go to culinary school, I was so lucky to have some amazing chefs take me under their wing and share their passion, as well as some very patient friends who were my taste testers and allowed me to experiment in the kitchen,” he says.
Kanak lives with his wife and 4-year-old son in Novi, MI. In his spare time, he can be found on the fairway, working on his backswing.