Just a short drive southeast from Downtown Orlando brings you to the Lake Nona area, which has everything that Central Florida is known for: beautiful scenery, sunny skies, and the fresh and innovative tastes that greet you as you dine at “Canvas Restaurant & Market” in the Laureate Park Village Center in the heart of Lake Nona. With a creative and unique culinary vision, Executive Chef Bryan Thoman and his team work hard to make your dining experience fun, fresh, and fantastic!
Born in the northeast United States, Chef Bryan recalls how he became introduced to cultural flavors, “I spent my early years growing up in south New Jersey, and we had a lot of neighbors who were of Italian descent, and some of them were what you would call ‘right off the boat.’ I remember having dinner at several friend’s houses, and I was intrigued at how they would grow so many of their ingredients right in their yards, made wine in their basements, and cooked every dish fresh from scratch… it was like the ‘Farm to Table’ tradition of the day!”
Growing up, Chef Bryan was always interested in food and the preparation process involved with cooking. “It was the late ‘90s and the ‘Food Network’ was just becoming popular, so I would stay up late at night watching all the great Chefs while my friends were watching ‘Beavis and Butthead’… my mom would tell me to turn off the TV but I would say ‘Mom, they’re making foie gras!”
“I’ve been working in restaurants since I was fifteen, so I don’t really know how to do anything else. When I got out of high school, I went right into culinary school, which is a great way to learn how to cook and to become proficient with all the basic cooking techniques; however, restaurants are where you really learn what it means to be a chef.”
Working in kitchens, watching and learning from the chefs, Chef Bryan realized that he wanted to be the guy in charge. “I didn’t want to be the one taking directions and being told what to do, I wanted to be the person giving the directions, teaching and coaching people… so I worked as hard as I could to make my way up the ranks, and to become the ‘guy who knew everything’ who was able to teach all the younger cooking staff.” His hard work paid off, and Chef Bryan became a “Sous Chef” when he was twenty years old and, being driven to make it to the top, earned his “Executive Chef” position when he was 27. “It takes a lot to learn to be an Executive Chef… there’s a lot to it.”
Chef Bryan firmly believes that, first and foremost, the Executive Chef is a teacher, a mentor who is developing the next generation. “I am always telling my Sous Chefs that 90% of my job is people, 5% is cooking, and 5% is the business/financial side. Without my team, the restaurant doesn’t move… I mean, I can cook on the line, but I can’t do the job of four people.” Chef Bryan believes the Executive Chefs have to make sure that those in the next generation know where they stand, know what they need to do in order to do their jobs correctly. “It’s important to that they understand the expectations… instilling a work ethic into a team is the most important job for the Executive Chef.”
When he is developing a menu, Chef Bryan likes to stay a season or two ahead. “At ‘Canvas,’ our goal is to be a ‘Florida Fresh’ restaurant, with our focus on what is in season and readily available… which is a wide selection any time of year here in Central Florida, but I like to design the menu based on ‘peak’ times of the seasons. So, my first question is ‘which season is this menu reflecting,’ then I ask myself ‘which ingredients are going to be the most flavorful and abundant,’ and finally, what is the ‘location’ or theme of the menu.” From these questions, Chef Bryan makes a “Master List” of all the ingredients that fit the food profiles, and he starts mixing an matching. “It’s like being at the market and seeing what ingredients are displayed, what looks good together.”
“I like to think about what ‘Florida’ means to my guests… there are a lot of Carribean and Latin influences but there are also flavors found in the South. I take all these flavors and themes and put them together, making sure that the taste is the prime consideration, super fresh and super high quality. Merging all those Florida flavor profiles is a challenge, but it is a labor of love… making something that is appealing to people from all walks of life, who just want to come in and enjoy being in a cool atmosphere, perhaps with live music and patio dining, is what makes ‘Canvas’ the perfect place to relax and enjoy great hospitality with great service and enjoying equally great food. It’s what I’m all about!”
Come try Chef Bryan’s culinary vision at “Canvas Restaurant & Market” where all the Central Florida flavors from his “Master List” of ingredients merge into gustatory greatness… not bad for a kid from Jersey!
Produced by: Irina Pabis
Photo/Video by: Richard Pabis
Written by: David Morizot