10 Things That Inspire Chef Antonio Park and His Growing Food Empire
Chef Antonio Park has always spent time in the kitchen. The Montreal-based restaurateur grew up in South America, helping his mother cook a myriad of dishes in their kitchen in Argentina. Park’s multicultural background—his parents are Korean and his family also lived in Paraguay and Brazil—has influenced not only his cooking style, but also his dedication to farm-to-table dining and his altruistic outlook on life.
Before opening his first restaurant, Park, in Montreal in 2012, Chef Park attended culinary school in Japan and put in his time working at kitchens around the world. Now, with 13 restaurants in cities like Seoul and Montreal, he captivates diners across the globe with dishes that seamlessly blend Japanese, Korean and international flavours.
Park’s most recent restaurant is Yama, a Japanese-fusion joint that opened in May in the newly reimagined Vogue Hotel Montreal. It comes hot on the heels of last year’s opening of AP, serving Japanese and Pan-Asian inspired dishes, on the 51st floor of Toronto’s Manulife Centre, a concept Park plans to expand into Colorado and Tokyo. A second location of Park is set to open in 2024 in Tangier, Morocco in the first Waldorf Astoria hotel to open in Africa.
Here are 10 things the chef and father of four relies on to fuel his inspiration and keep his gastronomic empire growing.
From UFC and soccer to baseball, hockey and tennis, Park is a huge fan of sports and always makes time to watch them on TV. He cheers the loudest for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Canadiens. “As a kid I used to watch Montreal Expos baseball games with my dad,” he says. “He was a semi-professional baseball player in Korea, and put me in every possible sport as a kid, which I’m grateful for.”
The Girl with Seven Names
As a young boy, Park devoured detective novels and mysteries by Agatha Christie. These days, he enjoys reading non-fiction instead. “I recently read The Girl with Seven Names, the story of a North Korean woman who escaped the country and wrote about it,” he says. “Biographies inspire me to be grateful for what I have and where I am in life.”
iPhone 13 Pro Max
Park spends at least six hours a day on his iPhone 13 Pro Max. “I get thousands of emails and text messages a day,” he says. “I wouldn’t know how to do my work without it. For communication, conversation and problem-solving, there’s nothing better.”
Park goes to Seoul at least twice a year to see his mother, who retired there. It’s also the site of his first overseas restaurant, Centre Cheongdam, which serves up a fusion of Western and Japanese dishes. Park opened it in 2022 in part as a tribute to Montreal and Canada. “We go through a lot of maple syrup,” he says. The sweet stuff is used in dishes like the Monte Cristo sandwich.
A self-professed shoe freak, Park estimates he has over 500 pairs from brands like Nike, Adidas and Prada. Cool socks are also at the top of his list—his favourite pair has Batman on them. “When I was a kid we were really poor—my socks always had holes and I couldn’t change my shoes for four or five years, so they had to be taped shut at the front and sides,” says Park. “I always told myself, the day I have money I’m going to buy all the shoes, socks and hats that I want.”
Clear broth with spicy codfish
When it comes to comfort food, nothing quite hits the spot like his mother’s clear broth with spicy codfish. “She does a lot of broths I really like and also makes the noodles herself,” says Park. “Mom always says, ‘You can eat the same food at a restaurant, but they’ll never put in the same heart and soul as when parents make it for their children.’”
Karla de Lara
As one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, Guadalajara-based Karla de Lara is often referred to as the mother of hyperrealist pop art. Her recently commissioned painting of a Montreal cityscape can be seen adorning the walls of Yama; Park also counts her as a close friend. “Karla is a beautiful human being,” he says. “Even though she’s beyond popular, she is super humble and so nice.”
With only one cassette player in the house, and an older sister who loved Luis Miguel, Park quickly grew to appreciate the Mexican-Puerto Rican superstar as well. “He’s a very romantic singer with a beautiful voice; I love how he composes his lyrics,” he says. “His music always brings me back to the memories I have from growing up in South America.”
Park loves to sing and dance every chance he gets—from salsa and merengue to hip hop and reggae, it just comes naturally to him. “My parents used to put on Julio Iglesias and dance together all the time,” he says. “It was always my dream to become a professional singer; when I was 18 I secretly won the grand prize at a singing competition. My father found out when it came out in the newspaper and he wanted to murder me, because he wanted me to go to school and study. I still sing—when I’m driving to work, in the shower and to my children.”
Park’s own life philosophy is: “Be the sun, not the flower. Let all the flowers underneath you grow bigger than you.”
“If someone has learned from you to become better and stronger, then you’ve done your work and the world will be a better place after you’re gone.”