Adam Foley

How executive chef Adam Foley reinvented the restaurant at Osgoode Hall

But don’t worry. That butter tart isn’t going anywhere
But don’t worry. That butter tart isn’t going anywhere

When Adam Foley took over the kitchen at the Osgoode Hall Restaurant a decade ago, his new boss, the CEO of the Law Society, gave him specific orders: don’t get rid of the club sandwich, the steak frites or — and this was most important — the butter tart. Foley obeyed.

Those items are as popular as ever, but Foley had plans of his own. “I immediately noticed that lawyers are educated eaters,” says the 49-year-old executive chef. They may crave red meat and pastries now and again, but they also want healthier options. So Foley decided to keep three protein-rich salads — like a delicious Milford Bay smoked trout — on the menu at all times.

Foley also brought his farm-to-table ethos to the restaurant. “I always want to support local agriculture,” he says. He stocks the kitchen with vinegars and oils from the Niagara region. The steak hails from Wellington County. These are small changes, but big points of pride. “I care so much about where the food comes from.”

The dining room at Osgoode Hall is unlike any other in the city. It was once a lecture hall — before 1968, when the Osgoode Hall Law School campus migrated from down-town Toronto to York University. Huge chandeliers hang from the ceiling and count-less volumes of old law books line the walls. And the windows are all stained glass.

The restaurant, which serves lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., is open to the public. But since it’s in the same building as the Court of Appeal, it’s unique in another way: diners have to clear security to get inside. Foley, then, mostly cooks for lawyers and judges, often on break from court, decked out in their gowns.

Adam Foley

“I care so much about where the food comes from,” says Adam Foley, executive chef at Osgoode Hall.

Not quite the clientele that Foley, as a budding chef, imagined he’d cook for. His passion for food stems from childhood. He would spend afternoons watching Julia Child on TV with his dad. For dinner every Saturday, the two would prepare one of Child’s dishes, flooding their Leaside home with the smells of French cooking.

When Foley graduated high school in 1989, he enrolled in culinary arts at George Brown College. Two years later, he was in London, England, working in a Michelin-star restaurant at the Cliveden Hotel. In 1993, Foley came home to Toronto. He ran a few kitchens, including Rosewater Supper Club, before landing at Osgoode Hall. These days, Foley oversees a staff of 26 that prepares and serves his creations.

But he’s done more than reinvent the menu. Foley has also revamped the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program, which serves hot meals to the poor and homeless four times a week out of the Law Society’s cafeteria. In the past decade, Foley eliminated processed food from what the program offered. “It’s all homemade comfort food,” he says. “We prepare 60 litres of soup twice a week for it. I’m enormously proud of looking after those who need it.”

So what’s Foley planning for the future? He wants to have a nutritionist evaluate every dish in the Law Society’s cafeteria, which he also oversees. That way, he can offer a nutritional breakdown of each dish, so diners can make more informed choices.

Such attention to detail has earned Foley some big fans. Take George Ruggiero, the managing partner at the boutique commercial-law firm Schneider Ruggiero LLP. “When the stars align, I try to eat at the restaurant five days a week,” he says. “Adam is meticulous. And he shows creativity when crafting the menu on a daily basis. The restaurant is Toronto’s best-kept secret.”

This story is from our Spring 2017 issue.




Photo by Tim Fraser courtesy of Osgoode Hall Restaurant