Chefs Daniel Cholewa and Andrew Smyth: It Takes Two to Tango Nuevo

By Lindy Mechefske

Update: Chef Daniel Cholewa is no longer with Tango Nuevo, and Andrew Smyth is now head chef. 

Co-chefs Daniel Cholewa and Andrew Smyth head up the busy kitchen at Tango Nuevo, working alongside a team of thirteen cooks. When I contact one of them for an interview—I get both. They come as a pair. Not only do they work together, they also socialize together, and sometimes finish each other’s sentences. The pair of chefs who have worked together, day in and day out,  since Tango Nuevo opened its doors, use one word over and over: team.

“We’re not hierarchical in the kitchen,” says Daniel, “We can’t afford to be, this is an incredibly fast-paced kitchen and it takes a team.” On a busy night, the kitchen at Tango turns out as many as eight hundred, beautifully crafted, individual tapas plates. That’s a lot of food and a lot of attention to detail, especially given that almost everything is made on site and prepared to order.

Chef Daniel Cholewa and Chef Andrew Smyth: It Takes Two to Tango Nuevo
Photo via Lindy Mechefske

Lindy Mechefske: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds—where you came from and where you developed your passion for food.
Andrew Smyth: I’m originally from Montreal and came to Kingston about ten years ago. My first job in a restaurant was a part-time dishwasher position that I took to support my musical aspirations. I worked my way up the ladder and soon realized that I was very drawn to the creative side of cooking. I studied culinary management at St. Lawrence College. After graduating I spent some time working in Prince Edward County and then worked at Aqua Terra under Chefs Clark Day and Jason Legère for two years, before starting at Tango, and eventually, at Tango Nuevo. I’ve been here since before the doors opened four years ago, helping to build the place from the ground up.

Daniel Cholewa: I grew up in Aurora, in a family of nine children. My Mom was always in the kitchen cooking big family dinners. Food was a huge part of our existence. We grew up helping Mom in the kitchen. This had an important impact on me and apparently also on the rest of my family because two of my brothers are also chefs. I studied computer science but realized soon after I graduated that what I really wanted to do was get back into a kitchen. I worked at Casa Domenica, and then Red House, before coming to work at Tango Nuevo. Like Andrew, I was here helping to prepare and paint the place prior to its opening and I’m a better cook than painter! Essentially I’ve been cooking all my life.
LM: What drives you forward in your career? Are there important influences or things that inspire you?
DC: I am really driven to create new dishes. I love experimenting with flavours and new ingredients. I was just at the Asian market on Princess Street picking up sambal, miso paste, and pickled ginger. I’m working on a miso reduction.

One of the things I like about working here is our chef’s tasting menu dinners. We have a private room downstairs where we’ll do a special menu for up to eight guests. We put a lot of effort into planning the menus—developing something really special, catering to customers’ taste preferences and allergies, etc. It’s a unique opportunity to be creative as a chef.

AS: I’ve always been inspired by fine dining. I’m interested in molecular gastronomy. And I’m very drawn to Spanish cooking. I’ve fallen in love with tapas/small plates. But I’d have to say I’m inspired by British Chef Marco Pierre White, the first British chef (and the youngest chef anywhere) to be awarded three Michelin stars. He trained Gordon Ramsay and Curtis Stone and was notorious for his bad behaviour and fantastic food. In 1999 Marco Pierre White got fed up and gave his Michelin stars back so that he could reinvent himself. He’s a character and I find that pretty inspirational.

Tapas from Tango Nuevo
Photo via Tango Nuevo

LM: How do you see Canada’s culinary identity?
AS: I think Canada is lagging behind world food culture. But it’s starting to happen. We’re a huge country and so multicultural that it’s hard to define our culinary identity. I think it’s very cool that our cultural and culinary identity is starting to emerge—our awareness is growing. We’re moving away from a meat and potatoes culture into something much more adventurous. I think we’re starting to trust chefs and recognize the fundamental importance of food.

DC: I think what we’re doing at Tango Nuevo reflects what’s happening to our culinary identity. It’s shifting. We’re more aware of the importance of food. We know more about ingredients and the foods of other cultures. When Tango Nuevo opened, we purposefully stopped serving lunches and dinners and shifted to tapas and small plates that can be shared. Our menu is incredibly diverse. That’s typical of tapas menus. Sharing food is important and it facilitates a different relationship to both the food and the people at the table. It makes eating a bigger part of the conversation and I think that’s important.

LM: What are your favourite off-duty, go-to-meals at home or out?
DC: Beer and wings at the [Iron] Duke. A curry from Curry Original and late night poutine from Bubba’s.

AS: Beer and wings with Daniel at the Duke (a special nod to Tony the bartender). Late night pizza at Bubba’s. Woodenheads. And charcuterie at Le Chien Noir.

LM: What’s in your refrigerator right now?
DC: I live with a girl so my fridge is fully stocked! It’s fabulous.

AS: Fixings for grilled cheese. Beer. Way too many condiments. And usually some leftover takeaway containers.

LM: If you could cook for anyone at all, who would you choose?
AS: I think working as a chef, I have really learned to appreciate other chefs. I’d love to cook for Chef Marco Pierre White. I like how honest and real he is and I admire his passion for food and life and his commitment and creativity.

DC: I’d love to cook for my Mom and my whole family. My mom doesn’t share her kitchen easily but I’d love to take over and cook her a really big, fabulous Christmas dinner. And I’d love to watch her reaction because as chefs, we’re working in the back, we rarely get to see how people react to the food we’ve just cooked for them.

Chef Daniel Cholewa and Chef Andrew Smyth: It Takes Two to Tango Nuevo
Photo via Tango Nuevo
Chef Daniel Cholewa and Chef Andrew Smyth: It Takes Two to Tango Nuevo
Photo via Lindy Mechefske

LM: What do you value most in life?
DC: Family. My coworkers are also like family. We don’t make a lot of money in this business and we work hard, long hours and late nights—so teamwork and respect are paramount. We treat each other well. I value the opportunity to work with cooks and see them grow.

AS: Family. Friends. The opportunity to be creative in my work. To be a cook or a chef is very big—it’s to be generous, to care. To really, really care about what you’re doing and put your heart into it – that’s something I truly value.

LM: And lastly, who are some of your favourite local suppliers?
DC and AS:
Asian Market
Forman’s Farm
Glengarry Cheese
Seed to Sausage
Tara’s Natural Foods
Wendy’s Mobile Market – with a special shout out to Rick who makes deliveries!

Chef Daniel Cholewa and Chef Andrew Smyth: It Takes Two to Tango Nuevo
Photo via Lindy Mechefske

Tango Nuevo, 331 King St E, Kingston, Kingston, is open for 12pm-12am, seven days a week for a wide variety of tapas and desserts made on site. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options available. Fully licensed.

For more information please visit or call 613.548.3778.