By Sebastien (Mani) Manigat | Photography: Jason McNamara
“Originally this space was meant to be a wedding hall, or a reception area. We had no plans of opening a restaurant really,” Ahmad Mansorifard explains. This is where the story of Table 21 begins.
On December 5, 2010 a fire ravaged the original Truffles Burger Bar on the corner of Pitt Street and Second Street in Cornwall, Ontario. Mansorifard and his wife Dominique Gilgen were devastated by the loss of their business, but decided to re-open a new location a few doors down. One small problem. The owner of the building did not want to lease them the space unless they also took over the loft above the future restaurant. Although hesitant at first, the couple’s creative instincts took over. It was an opportunity they could not pass up.
“It was all Dominique! If you look over there (pointing towards the window), you’ll see it sort of looks like a chapel. That’s where we went boom let’s turn this into a reception hall. We could host weddings and what not. It’s such an amazing space.”
They also thought of transforming the loft into an auxiliary meeting space for Truffles Burger Bar. Ultimately it evolved into a project with its own identity. They decided to create a steakhouse, which they believed was lacking in the local dining scene. On November 22, 2012, Table 21 was born.
“Again, Dominique came up with the name! (laughter)” They wanted the restaurant to symbolize an address, a destination where a unique experience awaited each costumer. “We also played with the idea of having a chef’s table near the open kitchen. That table, numbered 21,would host tastings with 21 possibilities of dishes, flavours, or styles even. But we sort of applied that concept to the restaurant as a whole. Our menu changes every two weeks.”
“Our approach is not necessarily fancy, but rather a focus on quality,” says Mansorifard. That is evident in every detail of the decor: gorgeous hardwood floors, original brick, and high ceilings.
“All this stuff, the antlers, the wood, is from here. It’s local. Beaver Creek I believe. I mean that’s where I get my elk from for my kitchen. I like to do weird things! I mean, that’s who I am. So we definitely wanted to apply that to our concept. Offer people something they hadn’t necessarily seen before.”
Modern. Classy. Rustic. Those are the qualities Mansorifard wants you to take away from his restaurant, especially his food.
“We use cast iron. We don’t have tablecloths. So in itself it’s a bit unique. We have this steak, 37 ounces: the Tomahawk. Our fish, it’s fresh. Are menus are catered around what can we get right now in the market. For example, this week we’re getting fresh Chilean sea bass and black cod. They just came in to our fishery in Montreal. And we have it here, so we’ll be creating special dishes with that.”
“Funny enough, I started working with food when I was an engineering student! Working in various kitchens, learning from different chefs. However, when I graduated, I opened up my own electronics store…. It burned down. So I went back to the kitchen.”
Mansorifard’s story then proceeds to take various turns. He practically held every restaurant position and grew his culinary knowledge. “I completely overhauled and managed a successful restaurant. Implemented new systems and employed new strategies. It was great.” Soon enough, he opened his own successful restaurant in Montreal, but he kept getting drawn back into the kitchen. You couldn’t keep him away, and eventually he decided to go to culinary school; an experience that he casually mentions. “I mean you learn the basics, yes. But the real experience, the knowledge, you get that from being in the kitchen. I was fortunate enough to work with amazing chefs.”
Mansorifard qualifies his style as fresh, unique, and simple. Rather than drawing from inspiration, he’s constantly trying new things. “I experiment constantly. Constantly. Mixing different things. Sometimes it’s garbage…. I throw that away (laughter). Sometimes it’s good…. Sometimes it’s excellent, and I keep it. It’s like chemistry. I want them (our customers) t0 eat here, and the experience…. It’s like an explosion in their mouth.”
One constant throughout our conversation was one name: Dominique Gilgen. Her imprint is felt throughout the restaurant: menu, wine selection, the decor, the name, etc. “She so good. I mean her knowledge, about food, wine, cigars, everything! She’s very good,” gushes Mansorifard.
They met in Montreal when she applied to work in his restaurant. The rest is history. “I wound up in Cornwall by accident. Worked at this restaurant called Basil. One thing led to another and I was given the opportunity to buy a restaurant called Mangi’s. It’s Dominique who practically turned everything around. She lead the transformation of the restaurant into Eight Zero Zero.” Mansorifard and Gilgen eventually sold Eight Zero Zero.
They’re working relationship is best described as complimentary. “We work very well together. I mean were constantly arguing,” says Mansorifard with a laugh. He explains that they are constantly bouncing ideas of each other, especially when it comes to the menu. It is part of their creative process and allows them to push each other to deliver the best possible dishes.
“We have no life!”
Ahmad explains to me how hard it is to manage two restaurants and all its different intricacies. Dominique and him are not only partners at the restaurant, they are also partners at home. Which leads to quite a hectic life: “Seriously we have no life! This interview with you, this is my social life. We meet people here at the restaurant all time. But that part, the friends we make, that’s very fulfilling.”
Their lives, both professional and personal, will be featured in a TV5 reality television show. A film crew followed them for 24hrs to capture how couples balance work and family. Viewers will see that successful businesses and relationships are based on hard work, sacrifice and patience.
“I mean there is a demand for what we are doing. You see it in the events that happen in here in Cornwall. And you look at the festival we did last year (Seaway Summer Food Festival) that was very good for us. It helped us a lot.”
Mansorifard sees tremendous opportunity in Cornwall. Despite having his hands full with two restaurants, he’s not done yet. “Yeah, I’m thinking about opening another place…. Maybe something to do with catering.”
Table 21 will be participating in this year’s Seaway Winter Food Festival. For more information, please visit www.seawayfoodfestival.ca
This story was updated on October 1st 2016.