It's no secret that chefs know the best places to eat. So we're setting out to talk with as many Toronto chefs as possible to find out where they like to chow down and how they enjoy their precious days off. No gatekeeping here — our new Day off Diary series is all about sharing, and how chefs care for themselves when they're not sweating on the line.

While everyone loves a new Toronto restaruant opening, we want to go beyond the lists of best Toronto restaurants to discover those hidden gems and underrated mom-and-pop eateries that make Toronto so special. First up, we speak with Eva Chin, the founder and chef of the successful pop-up Soy Luck Club, where guests can feast on her Neo-Chinese cuisine at different spots all over the city.

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So, what exactly is Neo-Chinese cuisine? "For me, [Neo-Chinese cuisine] is not modern because it's Chinese food in 2023. It's not modern because I'm using tweezers. What I'm trying to cook at Soy Luck Club is modern because of what our generation has revolutionized," she explains. It starts with her family and the food stories passed down from multiple cultures and generations.

"It's not modern because I'm using tweezers"

"My family is from Hawai'i, Singapore, Samoa, Hong Kong. I was raised around different cultures of food. This fed my curiosity to leave the island — I was raised in Hawai'i — to travel," says Chin who lived and cooked all over the world before moving to Canada in 2011.

Inspired by her history (and her favourite book The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan), Chin seeks to create conversations around the concept of immigrant food and how people can reclaim their identity through it.

"I'm a child in-between cultures. I can't cook authentic Singaporean, Chinese, Hawaiian — that's not what I want to do. I want to explore what it's like to cook as someone encompassing all these different cultures in Canada," she says. "At this point in my career, I'm ready to show people where I come from, what I've been through, and where I'm going next." 

Eva Chin's Day off Diary

How do you like to start your day off?

Eva Chin: "On my days off, my number one thing is to check in with my partner because we never have that chance when I go to work. The first thing I always want to do is get in sync with my loved ones.

We try to have breakfast together, or we at least have coffee together. My wife makes the best eggs, so usually, my request is to have her scrambled eggs. For my day off, I would like to not cook.

We spontaneously had brunch at Kiin for a couple of hours. That is the luxury part — doing whatever we want, whenever we want. That's my dream day off. Kiin's brunch is so good. The congee is unreal. You must get the congee, and the spicy pork bone soup is so good."

Where do you go for lunch?

Eva Chin: "My two really close friends are chefs in the city: Steve Allery is the head chef at Maple Leaf Tavern, and Tabitha Cranney is the head chef at The Wood Owl. Monday is a shared day off between the three of us. We have this thing called 'Monday lunches.' It's really cute.

Monday lunches are always a surprise, and it's always us three together. Some days, we have noodle soup. Kim's [Kim Vietnamese Restaurant] is my favourite noodle soup place because it serves Fu-Kien dry-style noodles, which I grew up eating in Singapore. They make this pounded shrimp cake that's so crispy it turns into a shrimp cracker. 

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Some days, we have Hunan Chinese food. One day, we went to Supreme Taste, a new Chinese restaurant in the east end. It's all about connecting with each other and trying something new. When I pick the restaurant, I'm in charge of ordering a spread. I am the chosen orderer; that is my job in the friend circle.

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Life's too short to let your days off go un-curated. We choose to sleep our day away. We choose to shut the world away because we think that's what our body needs after working so hard, but that's not true.

"Life's too short to let your days off go un-curated"

Our body needs us to love ourselves, and it can be in any form or matter. It could be going out to eat. It could be socializing, but with the right people. I want to normalize that in chefs. Rest isn't the only way of loving yourself. Treating yourself, meeting friends, socializing, venting, talking to people and eating different food is a way of loving yourself."

What do you like to do after lunch?

Eva Chin: "On my day off, one way or another, I'm always in Chinatown. I want to see what's fresh in the markets, what's going on, what people are buying.

I also like to go to Kensington, check out Sanagan's Meat Locker and some of the small bakeries. I go to T&T Supermarket often. You need to go with a suitcase. Their snack aisle is amazing.

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If I go to T&T, I'll for sure stop by Honeymoon Dessert. It's a franchise from Hong Kong. Is it the best place? It isn't, honestly. There are way better places uptown, but Honeymoon is the closest quick fix for Hong Kong-style desserts I crave sometimes. My favourite is steamed milk pudding. In mango season, they have cold milk pudding with mangoes, and it is divine —  the mango cold egg custard is incredible."

Any dinner plans?

Eva Chin: "If my wife isn't working, then it's date night. Our favourite date night restaurant is The Wood Owl. It's very cozy. Sometimes we have Uber nights. We order from PAI a lot. 

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We also love going to The Keg. That's very important. I love The Keg. It's the greatest restaurant in Canadian history. I'm so not embarrassed. I shame people for shaming me about The Keg.

I just found out that The Keg on York Street's last call [for the kitchen] is 11:30 p.m. I get the prime rib every time. Haven't changed my order in years. I always get the three-cheese baked potato, the three-cheese butter with the bread, shrimp cocktail, and garlic cheesy toast. Also, their corkage fee is only $15."

To check out Eva's pop-ups, follow her at @ridetowander