“Thank you for an impeccably conceived, curated and choreographed dinner.”
Adulation, awe, eagerness, and gratitude emerge from those lucky enough to partake in the dinners planned, paired, executed and presented by the world’s best chefs.
Charlie’s Burgers is the wonderfully successful brainchild of the accomplished, canny, and worldly-wise Franco Stalteri, a native Torontonian who set out to provide a consummate culinary experience for the love of food, wine and people. It came naturally, he explains, since he had always been drawn to the food and wine industry as a kind of calling, crediting “genetic disposition” – having had an Italian father and a French mother. For six years he succeeded brilliantly as an international headhunter for the stratosphere of chefs (the likes of Daniel Boulud, David Lee and Wolfgang Puck)!
When 2008 struck down the economy, with it the restaurant business and its attendant headhunting, Franco emerged with a dream plan of organizing a series of dinners prepared by top chefs who would be given carte blanche, the freedom to create independently, without the restrictions, limitations, and preferred menus of their employers. Dinners would be held each time at a surprise, somewhat “underground” venue (eg. wine cellar, bakery, warehouse) and, of course (pun unintended), the best, most exclusive wines would be included in this collective veneration of the gods of food and wine. (In practice, if the chef desires, a side of Kobi beef is imported from Japan, balut eggs from the Philippines!) And, in fact, the chefs themselves are not paid; they do it for the love of the creative opportunity.
The first dinner was held in February of 2009; by May of 2010, The Food and Best Wine Magazine named Charlie’s Burgers number 3 in a list of the 100 Best New Food and Drink Experiences in the World! More global media attention followed: Vogue, Figaro’s Magazine, and the BBC. Within a few short years, the least-best-kept secret in the world-wide brotherhood of food and wine lovers exploded, so that word of Charlie’s Burgers popped up in such exotic nether regions as Cambodia, sailing down the Mekong River; Buenos Aires; the Galapagos Islands; Rome; London; in a Ryerson University lecture; and, literally, as an “I heart Charlie’s Burgers” tattoo on a local restaurateur! With this kind of notoriety the dinners themselves might be incorrectly faulted as flaunting rarefied privilege, but as Franco assures me, the dining table mirrors the parking lot, where a Ferrari sits comfortably next to a 10-speed bike and vice versa, rendering all participants diverse and interesting dining companions.
Having amassed 6 sommeliers on board, having tested at least 700 wines in the span of each year, and selected 47 different producers in a 48-month period, Charlie’s Burgers had established a pedigree for wine-lovers who desired the prime selections for further dining. After consistent inquiries and requests from patrons, Franco, in 2013, launched an addendum to Charlie’s Burgers in the form of Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program, providing its membership with 12 cases of impeccably sourced wines per year, hand-delivered each month. It has also since established a partnership with restaurants who waive the corkage fee when patrons come in with a bottle of Charlie’s Burgers selected wine. This win-win relationship brings in the kind of clientele restaurants cherish and a bonus profit margin for Charlie’s Burgers. As Franco alludes to his 2-part operation: The dinners serve “as the runway show, costing a fortune” but giving life to the passion for creativity; and the Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program is the “economic engine” of the business. So much so that in August 2011, Charlie’s Burgers launched its own Charlie Burger Champagne, “Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Classé” from the famed house of Henry de Vaugency established in 1732. And, in 2017, the first Charlie’s Burgers scholarship was awarded to a George Brown student in Hospitality and Culinary Arts!
So what’s with the name?! Is it cryptic? tongue in wine-swished cheek?
Nothing of the sort. Franco describes it as happenstance: A few of his friends were tossing some ideas around when the “name” question came up. One of them said that it should be called something unpretentious like, let’s say “Charlie’s Burgers.” Franco and the rest laughingly agreed that that was “awful” and dropped the subject; but somehow they continued to facetiously refer to the project as “Charlie’s Burgers.” When Franco answered a call to come up with a domain name in 30 seconds he just tossed out “Charlie’s Burgers” thinking they would just change it soon anyway and, after all, the project would last perhaps 3 or 4 months.
8 years later….
Franco thinks of the name as “a great accident.” It was never that important; and Charlie’s Burgers remains a phenomenal social and culinary tour de force which, by any other name, would probably taste just “as sweet.”