Seat 3A: Michael Bonacini, Chef and Co-Founder, Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants

Seat 3A: Michael Bonacini, Chef and Co-Founder, Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants

Lifestyle | Posted by - July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Name: Michael Bonacini
Hometown: Tenby, South Wales
Home Base: Toronto
Occupation: Chef and co-founder of Oliver & Bonacini RestaurantsMasterChef Canada Judge
Twitter: @MichaelBonacini

Bio: Michael Bonacini was born in South Wales. He trained classically under Chef Anton Mosimann at London’s Dorchester Hotel before immigrating to Canada in 1985, and partnering with Peter Oliver in 1993 to create Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants. In 1996, he was awarded the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s first ever Gold Award in recognition of his significant contribution to culinary excellence in Ontario. In 2010, Michael released his first cookbook, 3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men. He has appeared regularly on Citytv’s Cityline and currently appears as a judge on CTV’s MasterChef Canada. At O&B, Michael drives the culinary program and oversees design and construction on all new projects.

Q: Most visited destination for business
A: Lately I’ve been traveling a lot to Calgary – O&B has partnered with INK Entertainment to open a restaurant, lounge space and large-scale event venue at Hudson’s Bay’s downtown Calgary flagship store. 

Q: Local knowledge tip
A: Get to know Calgary’s “+15 Skywalk.” It’s similar to Toronto’s underground PATH system, and is an absolute must if you’re traveling to Calgary in the winter months. 

Q: DIY vs. travel agent
A: My days of DIY-ing are over. It’s either my wife or my travel agent making the plans! 

Q: Most impressive airport
A: Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam – it’s incredibly well laid out, efficient, and of course has great dining options. 

Q: Preferred luggage
A: I have various sized cases that I use depending on how long the trip is. I always prefer to check my luggage though, because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a spot in the overhead compartments.

Q: What three things are on your must-pack-or-will-suffer-a-meltdown list? 
A: I’m a laid-back person and I tend to travel light, so there aren’t many items that would faze me if I didn’t remember to pack them. That said, the two things that are always at the top of my “must have” list while traveling are:

  • My headphones
  • Kiehl’s moisturizer – I’ve never used skin products before but my wife now has me hooked on this stuff and I can’t go anywhere without it!

Q: Preferred airline 
A: I have always had a great experience with Porter and Air Canada. My favourite international airline outside of Canada is Air New Zealand.


Q: Aisle or window 
A: For short flights I like the window, I like to see what’s going on – I’m still a big kid at heart. If it’s a long flight I prefer the aisle. It’s easier to get up and down and when you’re 6’2” like me, it’s nice to be able to stretch my legs in the aisle when needed. 

Q: Jet lag strategy
A: My jet lag strategy is to try to stay up until the nighttime of your destination once you arrive. 

Q: Staying in shape on the road 
A: Drink lots and lots and lots of... water! Ha. I like to walk to various destinations when I travel. I don’t often bring my gym gear because it’s more to pack and takes up too much space, especially on short trips.

Q: A travel moment that sparked an entrepreneurial idea or solution 
A: The last time I traveled I read an article about a hotel on stilts… I have to get there. Just reading the article sparked all kinds of ideas and thoughts for possible future endeavours. 

Q: Time & money saving tips
A: Electronic boarding passes! If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, this is a huge time saver. I’m also looking into getting my Nexus card, but need to find the time to finish the application and interview process.

Q: What hotel has truly lived up to the hype? 
A: My one night stay at The Dorchester in London with my wife and son – the same hotel I worked at for 10 years very early on in my career. They gave us a beautiful suite overlooking Park Lane. It was spectacular. 

Q: On the flip side, a hotel that has been a crashing disappointment?
A: I once stayed in a motel in Brandon, Manitoba. I was working on developing french fries, and had gone out west to meet with farmers and potato producers. The bed sheets were nylon and the bar had a bucking bronco in it. I can’t even remember the name of it now, but I’ll never forget those nylon sheets. 

Q: Your most amusing or regrettable holiday souvenir
A: The most amusing was from a visit to Paris. My son bought a little model of the Eiffel Tower from a street vendor after we had just finished dining at Le Jules Verne, an incredible two-Michelin star restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower. He was extremely disappointed to later find out that he could’ve gotten four of the same at another street vendor down the road. It now sits in the kitchen at our country home. 

Q: What do you enjoy finding most in a mini-bar?
A: Just looking in it – I never take anything from the mini bar. 

Q: Describe your guilty pleasure when traveling
A: There are two guilty pleasures when I travel. The first is if I’m traveling with my family, I will splurge at least once on having breakfast delivered to the room. The second is having a big pancake breakfast, but I prefer the first. 

Q: What foreign phrase do you most enjoy tossing about?
A: We try to use the appropriate hello/please/thank you phrases in the native language of the country we’re in. But as a chef, “Bon Appétit” is probably the one I use most in daily life. 

Q: Brushes with greatness: Most famous or interesting person you have spotted or bantered with on your travels... 
A: We were in Italy about 5 years ago, touring a church in a very small town known for its mosaics. And who walked in? Adam Giambrone. This was the year he had thrown his hat into the ring for mayor. My wife had spotted him so we said hello and had a quick chat, and marveled over the luck of meeting another Torontonian in this tiny church.

Q: Tell us about a great little place you recommend to friends 
A: My hometown is Tenby, Pembrokeshire, South Wales. There is an island 3 miles off the coast of Tenby called Caldey Island with a beautiful monastery where the monks make chocolate, yogurt and jewelry. There are also beautiful concealed beaches that no one knows of. It’s a bit of a hike but it’s worth it. 

Q: Confess to one thing you’ve nicked from your hotel room 
A: I used to always take the in-room menus, though I don’t do that anymore. I’ve also grown out of the habit of taking the toiletries – unless they’re really good ones! We have admittedly taken the plastic corkscrew that comes with the mini-bar. And my son has taken the “Do Not Disturb” sign. 

Q: UNESCO World Heritage Site that blows your mind
A: When we go back to Wales, we love to visit the spectacular local castles (castles and town walls of King Edward in Gwynedd). I also love going to Rome – especially for the Colosseum, which is just magnificent.

Q: A travel themed film that has really moved you 
A: The most recent film that we thought was unique and different was called The Trip. It’s an English movie and it’s hilarious. You’ve got to watch it. 

Tags: profiles, si si penaloza, oliver&bonacini, michael bonacini, seat 3a

Si Si Penaloza

Si Si Penaloza has been jet-setting to the world's top destinations for over a decade, contributing to The Globe and Mail, JETSET and NUVO. She has trekked the Himalayas in seersucker pajamas, tracked baby kiwi birds at Cape Kidnappers and observed octopus at 80 feet below in Bora Bora.

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