By Gillian Leschasin
Chef David Hyde celebrates an impressive 20-year milestone successfully blending southwestern and Italian cuisines at Cafe Carlo.
For two decades, Cafe Carlo has earned a loyal following from diners who regularly return for the addicting combination of southwestern spice and Italian flavour. The silent man behind those tastes is Chef David Hyde. In an ever-changing restaurant scene where chefs hop from kitchen to kitchen, Chef David breaks the norm and has remained loyal to Cafe Carlo since the beginning, finding the perfect match for his culinary desires.
“I love chiles and hot food,” he says. “It’s always been an interesting style of cooking that I enjoy the most.”
Situated in the affluent Crescentwood neighbourhood, this unpretentious restaurant exudes urban panache, offering the best of both worlds in dining—inspired dishes that impress, enjoyed in a timeless room that walks the line between smart and casual. The 50-seat restaurant attracts a large volume of foot traffic, along with diners who drive in from all parts of the city knowing they can count on high quality service and food.
The Ciao! editorial team was assured it would be a slow period during Monday lunch, only to see the dining room quickly fill up with a party of 10 in for a birthday celebration. The smartly-suited business crowd took over several tables along with a mix of locals strolling in for a lingering lunch.
The relaxed and friendly chef takes on the crowd without the slightest look of panic, churning out crisp salads and steaming plates of pasta topped with bold sauces made from scratch.
Chef David and his team are also gaining recognition from celiac disease sufferers. Cafe Carlo recently received a nod as restaurant of the year from the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. At this celiac savvy restaurant, diners can substitute gluten-free noodles in almost any pasta upon request, and our featured dessert, chocolate oblivion, is flour-free. Both are examples of how the restaurant responds to customer food needs. “We’ve always done that—because we make a lot of stuff from scratch, it’s possible to make a pasta with brown rice noodles or a dish that has no nuts in it.”
The menu hasn’t changed much since the beginning, although Chef David says it gets tweaked every six months to incorporate local seasonal produce or to try something new using interesting ingredients. Case in point: the mouth-watering fish tacos pictured on our cover are a recent addition.
Avocados, chiles and corn are some of the other ingredients repeatedly found on the menu and in specials, a direct result of Chef David’s love of southwestern cuisine. He’s travelled to New Mexico and spent a couple months backpacking through Mexico.
“I ate at a lot of small vendors—little taco places for interesting street food, where they used things like goat. I stayed away from touristy places,” he recalls.
Those experiences continue to inspire him in the kitchen. Huevos albañil, which is Spanish for “bricklayer’s eggs”, is a popular Mexican breakfast dish that Chef David fondly remembers. He includes this dish—chipotle eggs served in a tangy chicken broth—on the specials menu sometimes. As most chefs, Chef David particularly enjoys daily specials as an opportunity to express a bit of creativity. That creativity comes from years of self-discipline and practice. He is a self-taught chef, who read a lot of recipe books and learned to cook through repetition and experimentation. Today, he looks to food magazines for ideas, along with keeping an eye on the local food and dining scene. Like many local restaurateurs, he has jumped aboard the eat local philosophy and uses Manitoba suppliers as much as possible—chorizo from Miller’s Super Valu Meats, tortillas from Sunny Day and goat cheese from Oak Island Dairy for example.
Chef David’s love of cooking stems from his early years. As a child, he used to prepare meals for his family. Eventually, he entered the restaurant industry, working his way up from dishwasher at The Round Table, catering at Stephen & Andrews and helping in the kitchen at The Keg and Cibo’s.
“Once I got into it. . .I started to realize I really enjoyed it,” he says with a giant smile. “I do like the whole cooking experience. I can’t see myself doing something where I don’t have this creative output.”
Chef David started working with another chef when he first started at Cafe Carlo in 1989, but after three years he was promoted to head chef and hasn’t looked back since.
“Right from the beginning I’ve always liked the people who work here. . .I like a more individual restaurant than a chain,” he explains. “There’s a real team feeling in the kitchen. Over the years there’s been very little turnover of staff.”
It’s not a coincidence Chef David’s team is a tightly-knit bunch. The humble leader’s devotion to his craft, his co-workers and his creativity is inspirational to all.