Your dreams . . .
Your phone number
The quirky message on white notepaper hangs from a chandelier with a dozen others, like ghostly leaves on a trunkless tree.
Washroom-wall graffiti gone upscale.
Welcome to Toronto restaurant chic.
With a Winnipeg flair.
The Ingo Maurer light fixture -- there are two of them, actually -- hovers above the long but definitely not lonely "Communal Table" at the front of the College Street bistro that a Toronto friend has "strongly" recommended to my travelling companion.
The bistro's called "Sha-koo-tee," but it's spelled Xacutti. "Definitely trendy and buzzy," the friend of my friend advised. "Wear black! Reservations essential."
Our wives are with us on this Friday night. So are the food gods.
We are well into our main courses of the "new Indian" cuisine when the chef and managing partner emerges from the back of the long, narrow room.
It turns out that the tall, handsome man in white is from Winnipeg.
"I grew up in River Heights," says 32-year-old Brad Moore.
Xacutti was even designed by a former Winnipegger, Jill Osiowy, who happens to be the wife of Brad's best friend, Watchmen lead singer Danny Greaves.
Last year, En Route magazine rated Xacutti one of Canada's top 5 new restaurants.
I ask for Brad's phone number.
We'll get to his struggles and dreams later.
* * *
It's late one weeknight when he answers his cell at work and we start with his first dream, the one fate delivered.
"I was just a kid of 18 wondering what I was going to do with myself," he recalls. "And I was very, very frustrated."
What he planned to do was take a year off school and work at a video store. Then one night, he went to a Winnipeg Jets game with his buddy, Frank.
"After the game, we were broke and hungry and we went to his sister's restaurant."
Frank's sister is Ida Albo -- latterly of the Hotel Fort Garry -- who at the time owned The Sandpiper with her husband.
Ida had attended culinary school at the world-renowned Cordon Bleu. Soon, she was feeding them and talking cooking.
Brad was so inspired by the experience that the next day he told his mom he wanted to be a chef.
It wasn't as if it was a total revelation. He'd always helped his mom around the kitchen, and he knew he had an artistic flare.
So, while he waited to get into culinary school in Toronto, he moved to Vancouver and applied for a waiter's job at Earl's.
Again fate intervened, this time in the person of a chef named Don Rankin, who rescued him from being a waiter and put him in the kitchen.
"So that was my first break, him taking an interest."
There was more to it than that.
The older chef was taken with Brad's enthusiasm and insatiable need to learn. The recipe for success that goes far beyond a kitchen.
Brad spent two years at Toronto's George Brown College, served a relatively brief apprenticeship, and by 25, he was the head chef at one of Toronto's most popular restaurants.
He needed much more seasoning, though, so after work he went to work again. He volunteered in Asian restaurants around Toronto, and eventually New York City. Peeling carrots. Preparing entrees. It didn't matter.
He was learning and, again, other chefs were helping him.
He learned the hard way, too. Within two years of opening another Toronto hot spot, he had a falling out with the owners.
Off he went to the Caribbean for a year, literally digging a hole in the sand and building a new restaurant.
Now, though, he has his other dream.
He and his former-girlfriend-turned-business-partner, Lesle Gibson, have their own restaurant and it's the talk of Toronto.
"I was very, very fortunate," Brad says. "And I thank God twice a day that I figured it out at the age I was. Because I've got some sweet friends who are still struggling at my age, now, still trying to figure where they're going."
* * *
Having asked him for his dreams, his struggles and of course his phone number, I only had one more question for Brad Moore.
What life message would he leave among the notepaper leafs hanging from the Ingo Maurer chandelier? He thought for a moment, then said:
"Appreciation is everything."
Actually, Brad's dreaming and struggling suggests another message.
Follow your passion.