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In conversation with Chef McLeod about his dream — the opening of Bolete in downtown St. Catharines


Intro: So, a warning, dear reader. Life sometimes clutters that clear path and blurs the lines of objectivity. We don’t live our lives in a bubble, at least I don’t, and stuff happens.

So it happens, when we try to be objective in our stories, that the subject turns to friend and things change.

You can no longer be objective. Life gets in the way.

This is how it is with Niagara Chef Andrew McLeod. I first met him when he was chef de cuisine and later executive chef at Spencer’s at the Waterfront. His food was amazing, his passion for each dish was off the charts, his discipline for creating a menu, plating and use of in-season ingredients impeccable.


I enjoyed extravagant wine and cider dinners at Spencer’s, brought my mom, my sister, my wife, friends and the kids to Spencer’s and found myself just popping in to try something new at the Burlington hot spot. I was there a lot. I liked the food as much as I liked the chef and we became friends.

And then I could no longer write about him in that way that is objective. We have become good friends. I know his wonderful family, Christina and their wonderful son Rowan. We talk things over with a cold cider, glass of wine or beer when the weight of the world comes crushing down. Or just to to prevent it happening.


So, how to handle writing a story about what promises to be an exciting new restaurant set to open in St. Catharines? McLeod’s Bolete, an intriguing piece to the puzzle that is part of the cultural transformation in the historic downtown core along St. Paul Street in St. Catharines, is something I need to talk about on this website.

I have watched McLeod through the trials and tribulations of getting this thing off the ground. There were tough times, endless roadblocks, plenty of sweat and times I doubted foolishly that he wouldn’t get the job done. He pushed through it all, supported unconditionally by his family and friends. And more than a few pints at Oast House and Merchant Ale House.

Instead of writing a story on the Bolete opening, and risk sounding like a friend writing about a friend, I decided to offer this Q&A format so McLeod could provide, in his own words and unedited by me, the story of his restaurant uncluttered by unintended editorializing.

Note: Soft openings of Bolete start Thursday with the doors opening to the public next week.



Chef McLeod won the International Chef Challenge Competition in P.E.I. this year. Above with his trophy and above that, cooking in competition.

Wines In Niagara: I first met you when you were the chef at Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington. Can you talk about your career up to this point?

Andrew McLeod: I first arrived in Niagara from Toronto in 2005. My passion for wine drove me to explore working at a winery. I didn’t know anyone in the area and quickly realized that there was a real camaraderie between the chefs here and knew this was the right place for me. I met Jason Parsons at Peller Estates Winery and accepted a sous chef position. I stayed at Peller Estates for a wonderful six years before moving to Edgewater Manor in Stoney Creek. This was my first head chef position and it really helped shape me for my next position at Spencer’s at the Waterfront. I stayed at Spencer’s until I knew it was the right time to open my own restaurant.

WIN: I loved your ever-changing menu and the creativity in your dishes at Spencer’s. Even though it was a larger venue you kept it interesting with the menu through the seasons. Can you talk about cooking in a fast-paced, high volume restaurant vs. what you will be doing at Bolete?


AM: The high-paced environment at Spencer’s was challenging and exciting. With the number of chefs, we had an opportunity to create amazing dishes for hundreds of guests a night. Bolete is a small restaurant where flavour and consistency will be key. The chefs will be able to interact with the guests to convey some of the excitement we have for the dishes and ingredients we use.

WIN: It is every chef’s dream to own their restaurant and be successful at it. I assume you could have chosen any location you wanted but you chose historic St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines. What motivated you to open Bolete in St. Catharines?

AM: St. Catharines is my home. It has always been a dream to open my own place here. St. Paul Street was a no brainer based on the amazing changes that have happened downtown over the past few years. There is a real buzz here, new fresh business, a real arts presence, amazing sports, and walking traffic that we have not seen here in years. I am extremely happy to be arriving at this exciting time and look forward to guests experiencing what we have to offer.


WIN: Why the name Bolete?

AM: Bolete is the Latin name for a type of mushroom. Porcini is one of the more popular and delicious varietals. Chris Haworth of West Avenue (Cider) and I took our children on a cottage trip a few years back. We came upon a secret patch of boletes; very fond memories of the boys washing vegetables that they harvested themselves at a nearby farm in the lake and cooking our treasures over the fire on the beach. I love the amazing things you can find while exploring.

WIN: I know you spent a lot of time preparing for the restaurant opening, it is obviously a lot of work to plan, design, get permits, decide on a location, financing, etc. What were some of the road blocks in your way and at any point were you second-guessing your decision?

AM: This has been the most challenging undertaking I have ever experienced. This kind of build pulls you in all different directions from planning the design to the actual construction to finishings. A lot of research and trial and error go into each step. What do I want versus what monetarily makes sense for the business in the future comes into play a lot. It’s very difficult to change something existing to something new, especially in a 150-year-old building … and delays are to be expected. I have never lost faith in this dream and it has given me many opportunities to grow as a chef along the way.


WIN: I imagine opening a restaurant takes a toll on your daily life, your family and finances while you are getting everything up and ready. How do you stay motivated and focused on the task at hand?

AM: Opening a restaurant comes with all kinds of personal challenges. You need to surround yourself with very, very understanding people and look towards the end goal. I could never have gotten to this point without the massive support from my friends and family.


WIN: I know you spent a lot of time preparing with Bolete pop-ups, working with other Niagara chefs and even working at Niagara wineries (working at Flat Rock Cellars above) during harvest, bottling and those endless pumpovers. Does the work at Niagara wineries give you an appreciation of how local wines will work with your menu creations? What did you learn at the wineries that you can apply to Bolete?

AM: I feel looking back on it, all chefs and winemakers/cellar hands are very similar and I have a massive respect for the industry. The long hours through harvest, the constant tasting and adjusting and the cleanliness that needs to be maintained in the cellar. Everyone working towards a common goal of making great wine … or food!

I have learned a great deal over the last year about local wine and hope that reflects on our ever-changing wine list. The hope is to expose our guests to some of the most amazing wines that the region has to offer on the list and incorporated in the food as well.

WIN: Here’s the big one — can you talk a bit about your style of cuisine and what diners can expect in terms of food you will be serving?

AM: I have always cooked with the seasons in mind, especially here in the Niagara region. The bounty here is incredible and the local purveyors are fantastic. It’s so easy to use the freshest most beautiful ingredients.

I love creating seafood and fish dishes but explore everything Canada has to offer with a bit of a Japanese twist.

In the restaurant you can expect well-composed delicious plates at a reasonable price in an unpretentious atmosphere.


WIN: I assume food and wine (cider/beer/artisanal spirits) are a big part of the experience at Bolete. What can diners expect on the bar menu? Will it be entirely local, or some other Ontario and international? I assume you have inside knowledge of the wines, ciders and beers available to you?

AM: We have created a fantastic list of craft cocktails, some of the most interesting delicious wines in the region with one or two amazing internationals thrown in the mix. West Avenue Cider will make an appearance as well as some of the best beers (like Oast House) from around the region and beyond. I love chatting with my producer friends about some of the new releases they are most excited about and what will be coming down the pipe in the future. The list will be ever changing and evolving.

WIN: In terms of ambience and design of the restaurant, what was the look you were going for? What kind of atmosphere can diners look forward to?

AM: The space has been ever changing and evolving. We have gone back to the drawing board a number of times and have finally come up with a clean, fresh, beautiful space. The feel is modern meets historic with beautiful original floors, exposed brick and lots of natural light. Paintings by Melanie MacDonald will be the spotlight on the main floor. Another highlight is the open kitchen where guests will be able to interact with the chefs. I am excited for guests to come and enjoy the restaurant.


WIN: With the addition of Bolete on St. Paul Street, the main cultural hub in St. Catharines, there is an increasingly vital critical mass of restaurants and bars in the city core. How does Bolete fit into the puzzle? What are you thoughts on the revitalization transforming St. Catharines?

AM: This project has taken a year and a half to date. The increase that I have seen in amazing businesses since I have been working towards an opening downtown has been immense and has drawn people to come and see what the buzz is about. There is a real feeling of excitement in the downtown core with the addition of the new performing arts and Meridian centres. I believe what we have to offer guests at Bolete will be a refreshing addition to St. Paul Street.


176 St. Paul St., St. Catharines
or Open Table
Lunch served Tues-Sat 11:30-4:30
Dinner served Tues-Thurs 4:30-9:30, Fri-Sat 4:30-10:00
Private dining room – upon request
Sunday and Monday open for special events/functions (pre-booked in advance)