Chefs often find their inspiration through travel, but it was coming home that made Nick Lui realize that the secret ingredient to his success was something he’s known all along. Nick is the Chef and Owner of DaiLo, a celebrated College Street restaurant known for their creative and modern Asian plates, food that Nick made as a child with his grandparents, food that he never gave a second thought to.
Growing up in Markham, a bustling pocket just north of Scarbrough in the ’90s, Nick was an outcast. Most of his classmates weren’t Chinese. More students slowly arrived from Hong Kong bringing more people of his ethnicity to the school, but the new kids spoke the language, which Nick, did not. “They ended up being more racist to me than the white kids”! He didn’t really know where he fit in, and often brought in the classic white kid staple PB+J for lunches, leaving his delicious leftovers at home, safe from prying eyes. “I tried to shut my Asian culture out,” says Nick, and coasted until finishing high school. He set his sights on a career in culinary and began studying in Toronto, at George Brown College.
Upon completion, Nick received an internship at Scaramouche in Toronto. Known for its upscale French cuisine, Nick was in the epicenter of extravagance and excelled with the team for an incredible nine years. With an appetite for gourmet eats and an innate talent for working in the kitchen, Nick took some time off to discover the culinary palates of the demi-gods of fine dining; trekking to England, Italy, Spain and Australia, and working with some of the biggest names in the restaurant industry.
After a three-year hiatus, he returned to Toronto, his parents were waiting for him at the airport and suggested celebrating their reunion over a meal at the super posh North 44 restaurant, Mark McEwan’s answer to Michelin critics for Toronto at the time. But all Nick craved was comfort food, familiarity, family. He wanted wontons, like the ones he used to make with his grandparents. “It was an epiphany moment for me, I’ve made these things since I was a kid. ” says, Nick.
It took me to travel all around the world and cook in some of the top restaurants in the world with the finest styles of cooking to recognize that the best food in the world was right in front of me.
That dish has been on his menu since day one, a top seller, a platform for him to build what he learned internationally, all while paying homage to his roots and family. He honed and perfected the recipe with his grandmother, and then shadowed his aunt in the kitchen, watching and taking notes as she whipped up dim sum plates seemingly out of nowhere. “I’ve never really examined Asian cuisine or watched my parents or grandparents cook, I did it cause I had to. Watching her in that moment, it was insane. My aunt is a better chef than any of the guys I just worked for. And these guys are world renowned. And she didn’t really know it.”
That modesty was also blatantly inherited, as is his skill and devotion to bringing his culture’s cuisine to the forefront. Being proud to put your family’s recipes on a pedestal knowing that they’re best food you’ve ever made is inspiring but sharing that love everyday with your city is downright remarkable. Toronto couldn’t be luckier.
Eat Well…Libby Roach
Libby is a food editor at auburnlane.com and photographer based out of Toronto, ON.
Her creative passion lies in weaving stories into photographs and creating images that are engaging.