Originally published June 14, 2019
What do you recall as your first inspiration to become a chef?
My grandfather was a huge inspiration. When he first came here in 1959 or 1960, he didn’t speak any French or English. He became a bricklayer but never stopped cooking. He had this beautiful, huge garden and would make all of his food, cheese and charcuterie from scratch; just a huge inspiration to us.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
While everyone wants to be a voice and move up the ladder, you have to be the patient one. Work harder than anyone else and put in the time. I wanted to demonstrate that I could do the tasks so I was always the first one in, last one out, just waiting it out. Back in the day, I just didn’t leave because I wanted to have the sous chef position where I was working. I was so interested in staying in a place where I knew that I fit so I stuck it out and learned as much as I could. When a position came up, I eventually took it because my superiors saw something in me; I had that drive. Patience, it paid off.
What forms of media fed your inspiration and creative styles as you went through training and working your way up in the kitchen?
I used to watch so many PBS shows when food TV was food TV. It was like going to school, they would teach you like it was a class. My mom had lots of cookbooks and magazines I’d re-write down the recipes from. Lots of reading up on the iconic chefs of Italy and France as well, you always want to become like them because that’s what you saw and heard.
Recently, in addition to Stefano-branded pasta sauces, you’ve launched a line of frozen pizzas as well. What motivated you to take on these ventures?
Well, I’ve been cooking for so long and really like knowing and getting down to the science of it. I was never one to really follow any trends or anything like that. My partner Stefano (Faita) was a brand ambassador for IGA and one day, they said, “why don’t you come out with a line of something?” So, why not pasta sauces? We know there’s a market for it. If you taste others’, you know they take shortcuts. Customers can tell the difference so we’re going to do what we’ve done since we were kids and have made thousands of them since then; quality sauces using quality ingredients, no shortcuts.
Rank in preference/importance the social networks you use (IG Stories, IG Feed, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat etc). How do you prefer to use social media?
Twitter wasn’t for me; it was just a source of information. I actually got off of Facebook last year but Instagram is perfect for me. I use it for of a marketing tool. Lately, I’ve been using it as an inspirational tool as well. I’ll share my background, my story and give the younger chefs some hope like, you’re going to work hard but you can’t quit, that’s not an option. Eventually, if you put in the time, it’s all going to pay off, that kind of thing. This is what’s really cool about social media, inspiring people, but I don’t use it to always talk about me, me, me either.
I also like talking about huge projects for other chefs because we admire each other. “Hey, this guy’s opening up, this girl is starting that, someone’s opening this!” I talk about my chef at Impasto, Aicia; she’s amazing. I talk about all my cooks. I try to integrate as much as I can about my team because without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do on a daily basis. You can’t be selfish, you’ve got to share the love and give credit where credit is due.
How do you believe up-and-coming chefs or culinary students could use technology and digital media to their benefit?
Keep it positive. It has got to reflect your brand, who you are, where you came from, where you’re going. When you unveil something, give them that want and that need to gravitate towards your page. Do some good. Teach more, share recipes, and show them, “how did you do something?” Even if it’s just one day a month and if you can’t vocalize, use tools, people are watching. One of my favourite quotes is one by Pablo Picasso and it fits this perfectly: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
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