What is your idea of a perfect restaurant?
My idea of a perfect restaurant is one where the food is solid, straightforward, no fancy stuff, just simple techniques and good ingredients. Service should be quick, attentive and they should be proud of the food they are serving. Oh yeah, and I wanna be in and out in one and a half hours. Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Beach Boys on the soundtrack. Added bonus would be having Sam Adams Boston Lager and Gatorade on tap.
What is your greatest fear at work?
My greatest fear at work is having no customers and clients. 45 years in, so far, so good.
Which working Chef do you most admire?
Anthony Walsh and Grant Van Gameren. I’ve never met anyone in life with a work ethic like Walsh. He’s always, always hustling and has helped grow the O&B restaurants into some of the city’s best, and after all these years in the industry, he hasn’t slowed down, it’s quite inspiring. Grant is so smart, reserved and I have enjoyed his restaurants many, many times. He’s travelled a lot and comes back with everything he’s learned and puts his own spin on it and essentially gives people what they want; even if they don’t know they want it yet. That’s so rare, he’s such a trailblazer.
What part of work ‘you’ do you most deplore in yourself?
My temper. I’ve calmed down a lot over the last 10 years, but I hate my temper. Thing is, I’m on the floor all the time, I’m not in the kitchen or back of the house, everyone can see me all the time. I wear my emotions on my sleeve – I can’t help it. I can be intense when I work. But again, I’ve calmed down a lot.
What would instantly make you fire someone?
Theft. I bloody hate theft. No tolerance for it. If someone asks me for anything, I will give them the world, just friggin’ ask.
What was your most extravagant purchase for your restaurant?
$45,000, 10 feet tall, 868lbs, aged provolone. No one actually needs it, but I can brag and say it’s the largest cheese in the world, and it pretty much is. $20,000 prosciutto slicer is a close second though.
What is your favourite food journey?
Probably in Switzerland. Good cheese is like religion in Switzerland. It was my first introduction to a dairy in Europe, I was 22 at the time. The best coffee, the cleanest water, the highest mountains, everyone owns an insane amount of guns and other firearms, cows are everywhere, how can you go wrong? I love the Swiss.
What words or phrases do you most overuse at work?
“While you were sleeping” is a phrase I coined and overuse but I love it. I’m at the shop everyday no later than 6am. The amount of work I get done ‘while you were sleeping’ is crazy. 6-9am is my crunch time. I use this term a dozen times daily.
What do you regret most after all your years in the business?
I regret neglecting myself, my health, my mind. I’m so concentrated on getting what everyone else needs around me, and I totally forget to take care of me. I’m working on it constantly.
What do you love most in about this industry?
I love the crush, I love the panic, I love working with people I respect. I love it. I don’t know much else in life other than this industry. I’ve never had another job.
What is your current state of mind?
My current state of mind is like Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory, except it’s a cheese factory. It’s a little bonkers in my mind, I’m all over the place.
If you could change anything about the restaurant industry where you are, what would it be?
I think we all have to get back to our roots. Good service and good quality product is timeless. Quality always sells. I think we have to stop figuring out how to make a quick buck, what the next trend will be. We need to get back to respect for staff, ingredients and most importantly, the consumer.
What do you consider your most essential ingredient?
The work/life balance struggle is real. How good of a juggler are you? Tips?
I’m very good at multitasking at work., it’s my best tool, but I suck at work/life balance. I’m actually the worst at it. I’m trying everyday to be better at that. I’m looking for tips if anyone is dishing them out please.
What is your most treasured kitchen tool?
My blackberry and my parmigiano cheese chisel.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The day we ran out of feta. Worst day ever.
When you finally retire, were will you live?
I will live in Montego Bay in the winter and Florence in the summer.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My huge nose or baldhead; take your pick.
What is the quality you most like in a chef?
Cleanliness. I’m not a huge fan of sloppy chefs.
What is your greatest inspiration/motivation?
My Dad and my big brother, no question. Although Bruce Wayne ranks high too.
Superman or Spiderman?
Spiderman or Superman??? Are you kidding? How the f$%# is Batman not an option? And frankly the only option? This question makes me rethink answering the rest of the questions…
What is the first thing you remember cooking?
Pasta fagioli with my Mom. Very rustic southern Italian pasta dish with beans and pork hocks. I can eat it all day.
Beck or Clapton?
I choose Kurt Cobain.
You have to cook Escoffier’s death row meal. Menu?
1st course, Comte cheese covered in Burgundy black truffles.
2nd course, Tartiflette, rich Reblochon cheese melted on roasted potatoes and bacon and fresh thyme. So friggin’ good.
3rd course, perfectly aged strip loin with haricots vert and Roquefort butter.
4th dessert, Perfectly ripe luscious Loire Valley chevre and a glass of fresh, acidic Vouvray... and maybe a few profiteroles.
The ultimate French dinner, best ingredients possible with a heavy focus on cheese. No one would be disappointed with that.
Favourite kitchen word or phrase?
My favourite kitchen phrase I have a love/hate relationship with. “It wasn’t me”. Ugh. I love it because it’s so comical and juvenile, I hate it because, ‘then who the hell did it?’
The Cheese Boutique, 45 Ripley Ave. Toronto