Ritz-Carlton Toronto on the brink of change

Chef Murray McDonald and Hotel Manager Nicolas Messian.

Chef Murray McDonald and Hotel Manager Nicolas Messian.

TORONTO — It's been more than seven years since the Ritz-Carlton Toronto burst onto the hotel scene, the first of the new five-star properties in the city. With new team members including former Fogo chef Murray McDonald and global hotelier Nicolas Messian, the property is now on the cusp of change.

The management changes started two years ago, when Franck Arnold joined The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto from Edinburgh, where he was general manager of The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel. 

When CLN caught up with the latest arrivals for lunch, McDonald had been on the scene for two months, coming to the Ritz-Carlton after a year at Cluny's in Toronto's Distillery District. “By week two [at the Ritz-Carlton], I had already changed breakfast,  and the menu in DEQ [Terrace & Lounge] had changed,” he told CLN, adding that he was working on changes to RB [Ritz Bar], TOCA and the banquet package.

“I'm looking at in-room dining with more Canadian comfort food — rustic with more Canadian protein,” he said. “DEQ is really, really Canadian, coast to coast, cottage style. We have Churchill plates. It's high-end cottage and Martha Stewart, and, me being me, there's lots of seafood on the menu.”

TOCA is a collaboration with chef Oliver Glowig, one of Rome’s most celebrated culinary leaders, and McDonald is working with him on the new menu.

“Toronto is very multicultural, with different influences to choose from. Our Meds Platter is a little bit of Italy, and a little bit of the Middle East, and it can still be Canadian to look at,” McDonald said.

Nicolas Messian, hotel manager, is just a few months into his new job at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto as well.  What the two new arrivals have in common is that they have both worked on destination islands: McDonald on Fogo Island, N.L., and Messian in Maldives.

Messian credits one of his first jobs at Disney World as assistant manager of a steakhouse called California Grill, as instilling a great sense of hospitality and a desire to create magical moments for guests. 

“At the time, we were allowed $5 to make guests happy —  giving them a book to be signed by a Disney character, for example. Every manager at Disney spends a few hours in the park dressed as a character — say Tweedledee or Tweedledum [from Alice in Wonderland]. You have 25 kids rushing at you. I've never experienced anything like it in my life. The kids' eyes were wide open; they had unbridled enthusiasm.”

For four years, Messian and his wife operated their own restaurant, L'Astuce Restaurant-Paris. “We had five starters, five mains, five desserts in a market kitchen with 40 covers. It was simple food, cooked well. I learned you have to be there for your guests, especially in a tight labour market.”

After jobs that took him from Anguilla to the U.K., Messian, his wife and son went to a luxury resort in Maldives with Six Senses. He was director of a hotel 45 minutes from the capital, on an island with sunsets, sunrises, dolphins and sharks. There were 65 villas, and it was the most expensive resort on the island. “Dealing with people, you developed a special relationship. I am forever marked by what we had in Maldives,” Messian said.

The next move was to Dubai with One&Only Resorts, where he oversaw a renovation of the Royal Mirage in 2014/15. “We did a full renovation right to the walls, and we did it in four months, because people there work 24/7,” Messian said.

Back in London after four years in Dubai, he applied for Canadian permanent residency. “Canada's a great country to raise kids and we had friends here,” he said. Messian got his permanent residency last fall, and the Ritz-Carlton opportunity came up. 

“Although Ritz-Carlton is now Marriott, they have their own identity, and way of managing the company. It was the right company: 'We are ladies and gentlemen and serving ladies and gentlemen.' [In other jobs I've had] that's not the case,” said Messian.

“It's a great hotel. Let's make it better with collaborative chefs, and Nicolas as hotel manager. We have a strong team, who are passionate about bringing the hotel to the next level,” McDonald added.

“We want to be high-end but non hoity-toity,” said Messian. “We want it to be cool, fun and still luxurious — modern day luxurious with no white gloves. All of us have perfect timing. We're here on a journey from good to great.”