Our restaurant opened three years ago. It's an Italian restaurant, but more importantly it's a restaurant that uses local ingredients to make Italian food. We were among the first to start this trend - especially with Italian food. When it comes to ingredients we can't get here, like olive oil, we try to stay local to our parents. My parents are from Palermo, Sicily, so 85 per cent of our menu is influenced by Sicily.
I went to school at George Brown. I took the one-year chef's training program and the post-graduate Italian culinary program. And I did a stage after that, under the aegis of George Brown, in Perugia, Italy, at a Michelin-rated restaurant called Il Postale.
I worked in the industry before I went to school and wanted to get back to basics because of all the crap I learned working at shitty restaurants. I didn't learn properly. I was 27 when I went back to school, so I really wanted to learn. Ask the 2,000 questions that I asked and you're definitely going to learn something. The chefs loved that.
You study everything from history to hands-on stuff, from deboning meats to cooking them. A lot of times in kitchens, you work as a cook but you don't understand why you're doing things. School tells you. Any time I didn't know why I was doing something, I asked and got the answer, and it stuck to me like glue.
When I did the first year of chef's training, I got to know all the chefs really well. They have a network of people in the industry, which means that going to George Brown is a huge advantage. The school has a lot of contacts in the city - a must if you're going to be a chef here.
I knew I wanted to be in Italian food, because it's my culture. After I went into the Italian program and then to Italy, everything changed. In the Italian program I had a class in what's called slow food. This philosophy totally changed my direction. I was just going to make Italian food - then all of a sudden it had to be local. So how do I make local Italian food?
I thought I knew what I was doing when I arrived in Italy, but it wasn't until I left that I found myself. It was more than learning how to cook. I'd found what I was looking for - it was the best decision I ever made.
Specifics are very important, and that is what a true Italian chef is: someone who can make Italian food with the seasons and use local ingredients as much as possible. That's what they do in Italy, so that's what we should be doing here.
WHERE TO STUDY
Algonquin College (Ottawa) Culinary skills: $1,266/term (plus fees). algonquincollege.com
Durham College (Oshawa) Culinary skills: $2,650/year. durhamcollege.ca
Fanshawe College (London) Artisanal culinary arts: $2,620/semester; culinary skills - chef training: $2,220/year. fanshawec.ca
George Brown (Toronto) Culinary skills - chef training program: $4,188/year (plus fees); baking - pre-employment program: $3,508/year (plus fees). georgebrown.ca
Humber College (Toronto) Culinary skills: $4,746/year (plus fees). humber.ca