Spring is finally here, and you’re excited to get out into the sunshine and try something new. You’re looking for something fresh and vibrant that reflects the optimism of this tender young season. Well, look no further. Your fresh spring adventure awaits at Frilu Restaurant with a true farm-to-fork experience, where the food on your plate has made a direct journey from the place where it was grown. And you’re not just getting a farm-to-fork experience at Frilu—you’re getting a Michelin Star-rated one! Despite the high and world-renowned culinary honour, Frilu remains humble, striving every day to offer a warm, inviting atmosphere that is based on local flavours and local hospitality.
Welcome to Frilu
John-Vincent Troiano is the owner and executive chef at Frilu. With over fifteen years of experience in restaurants and the industry, he and his staff (including head chef So Sakata and sommelier Yuya Shimomura) have a deep love for what they do—as evidenced by just about every aspect of their restaurant. “Frilu is an intimate dining atmosphere,” he explains. “We only do about twelve to fourteen guests per evening, and there’s no turnover. We focus on a tasting menu concept—it’s an all-encompassing experience that is several courses depending on the season, and it’s all paired with drink—whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It’s a full experience for the guest.”
The word “frilu” is Norwegian, and roughly translates to a state of being free. John-Vincent says, “The Norwegians, and even the Scandinavian people, use this word to depict a sort of going back to nature and partaking of activities within nature. So we focus on the nature aspect of things in a minimalistic setting, as our tasting menus follow the flavours of the seasons—we change our menus five times a year.” Within these five major seasonal changes, John-Vincent also states that there are micro changes happening each week, depending on what’s available at the markets and what new produce varieties are constantly coming in.
A restaurant and a farm
Frilu is currently wrapping up its winter menu, and is looking to Mother Nature for fresh spring inspiration. In fact, John-Vincent knows all about spring and fresh produce because, in addition to owning Frilu, he and his wife Sandra also own Willowolf Farm in Simcoe County. After opening the restaurant five years ago, the couple decided to leave the crush of the GTA and move to a more rural area. They bought the 15-acre property they live on today, and naturally began growing their own produce with all that space.
“It’s just a small farm that feeds my wife and me, and the dogs,” he says. “But it also supplies pretty much all of the produce for the restaurant. In spring, summer and fall, I’d say about 80% of the produce at the restaurant is coming from our backyard.” In addition, Frilu works with different farmers’ markets and local purveyors. Winter requires a bit more local sourcing, as Willowolf Farm does not have its own root cellar. But Frilu looks towards the region’s farmers who grow and store their winter vegetables to continue on with the local and farm-to-fork themes.
Interestingly, John-Vincent didn’t set out with the intention of running his own farm for Frilu’s benefit; rather, he and Sandra transitioned to this concept as they found a love of working their land. And now, to have received a Michelin Star for simply doing what they love has been an incredible honour. “This accolade was totally out of left field for us,” he states. “We’re not in the downtown core—we’re about 30 minutes outside of the city by subway. So, we think of ourselves as more of a local eatery. But now with this Michelin Star, we’re attracting all kinds of guests who come from different parts of the city—and even different parts of the world. It has been quite a roller coaster.”
Indeed, Willowolf Farm is a testament to what one can accomplish with the determination to succeed. After all, John-Vincent and his wife did not have any professional agricultural background. Through extensive research and a lot of hands-on learning, they’ve been able to successfully transition their fifteen acres into a no-till farm. “This is a niche kind of farming,” he explains. “We don’t till the soil. Instead, we lay matter down on the grass, and over time that matter deteriorates and we can plant directly into the ground. This way, it doesn’t release carbon into the air like commercial farming does, with its constant tilling.” Though Willowolf Farm is not officially organic, it operates with a respect for organic methods, avoiding pesticides and herbicides.
What’s new for spring?
Now that spring is here, you can expect light, bright flavours to find their way onto Frilu’s menu. This is the time when John-Vincent and Sandra plan out what they will be growing at Willowolf. “Up until recently, we’ve been going on a kind of cowboy style,” he admits laughingly. “We were planting random things that we thought would be interesting. Now that we are more established with the integration of the farm and the restaurant, we’re moving towards organizing and planning for the season.” In spring, because it’s still rather cool outside, you can anticipate frost-resistant vegetables like spinach, cabbage and kale to make an appearance at Frilu. This truly speaks to the way the farm dictates the menu, rather than the menu dictating what the restaurant shops for.
The response from hungry diners looking for a fresh take on food has been incredible. And being out of the city centre has actually been a good thing, as more and more people are looking to swap their urban everyday for a wholesome, rural experience. “It’s a breath of fresh air out here,” John-Vincent says. “People come to us for an adventure that is off the beaten path. So, we’re out here working every day to get better a little bit at a time, and hopefully we’re not getting lost in the accolade of the Michelin Star. We’re still tying to stay on our toes and let the produce speak for itself, and make all this good food fun and exciting for everyone.”
7713 Yonge St., Thornhill