This Weekend – get to the Delicious Food Show

14 Oct


From October 17-19th, I invite you to head down to the Direct Energy Centre and march on over to my pavilion (you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see my signature red and white checkered signage). Once inside, chow down on the delicious delights from eight of Toronto’s top chefs, as well as tasty drinks from our booze sponsors, Samuel Adams and Fresita sparkling wine. Take a peak at the hot line up I’ve compiled:

Matty Matheson- Parts & Labour / P&L Burger

Ariel Coplan – Thoroughbred (NEW)

Jonathan Hamilton – Home of the Brave

Victor Barry- Splendido     Nick Liu – Dailo

Vittorio Colacitti – The Good Son / Top Chef Canada Contestant

Robbie Hojilla – Hudson Kitchen

Basilio Pesce – Porzia


For only 5$, you can purchase and sample any of the 16 dishes our chefs have created using Top Shelf Pantry items like Canola Growers, Vitamix, Samuel Adams, Fresita, and Pantry items from Strauss Water, Italpasta, Sharwoods, Lagostina, Barry Callebout and more to come!   You can then vote on your favourite dish, the results of which will determine the top four people’s choice dishes and chefs of the weekend. These chefs will have the chance to battle it out on Sunday October 19th from 4-6 PM on the Food Network celebrity stage as they partake in a live cooking competition with lots of great samples. More details are coming, but expect a wicked line up of celebrity judges tasked with the challenge of crowning one chef the champion. PS- did you see our ad in the September issue of Food&Wine Magazine? Hey ma, it says Abbey Sharp AND Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium! Eek!!


For more information on the Delicious Food Show, including the crazy wicked line up that includes the likes of Mario Batali, Tyler Florence, Chuck Hughes and Nadia G, check out their website here. Tickets are only $20 per adult and guarantee a boat-load of foodie fun.   To help kick things off, I will be giving away two tickets to this year’s Delicious Food Show. Simply tweet, share, like, follow, leave me a comment about which chef in the AK Pavilion you’re most excited about and leave a comment on any other post for your chance to win!

About the delicious food show

The Delicious Food Show is a 3 day food-lovers event designed to engage the consumer in a delicious, all food, lifestyle and entertaining experience featuring hundreds of exhibitors, cooking demos, tastings, hands-on workshops, book signings, and appearances by Food Network and international celebrity chefs.


Friday, October 17th, 2014: 10AM – 9PM
(Nadia G’s Bitchin’ After Party: 9PM – 1AM)
Saturday, October 18th, 2014: 10AM – 8PM
Sunday, October 19th, 2014: 10AM – 6PM


Direct Energy Centre, Hall A
100 Princes’ Blvd
Toronto, ON M6K3C3


See more at:

when i eat garbage……

9 Oct

James Clear writes at, where he shares ideas about using behavior science to improve your performance and master your habits. For useful ideas on how to live a healthy life, both mentally and physically, join his free newsletterFollow James Clear on Twitter:


Most of us know that junk food is unhealthy. We know that poor nutrition is related to heart problems, high blood pressure, and a host of other health ailments. You might even know that studies show that eating junk food has been linked to increases in depression.

But if it’s so bad for us, why do we keep doing it?

There is an answer. And the science behind it will surprise you.


Why We Crave Junk Food

Steven Witherly is a food scientist who has spent the last 20 years studying what makes certain foods more addictive (and tasty) than others. Much of the science that follows is from his excellent report, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.”

According to Witherly, when you eat tasty food, there are two factors that make the experience pleasurable.

First, there is the sensation of eating the food. This includes what it tastes like (salty, sweet, umami, etc.), what it smells like, and how it feels in your mouth. This last quality — known as “orosensation” — can be particularly important. Food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in a potato chip. Their scientists will test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda. These factors all combine to create the sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink.

The second factor is the actual macronutrient makeup of the food — the blend of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that it contains. In the case of junk food, food manufacturers are looking for a perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that excites your brain and gets you coming back for more.

Here’s how they do it…

How Science Creates Cravings

There are a range of factors that scientists and food manufacturers use to make food more addictive.

Dynamic contrast. Dynamic contrast refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. In the words of Witherly, foods with dynamic contrast have:

… an edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds. This rule applies to a variety of our favorite food structures — the caramelized top of a creme brulee, a slice of pizza, or an Oreo cookie — the brain finds crunching through something like this very novel and thrilling.


Salivary response. Salivation is part of the experience of eating food, and the more that a food causes you to salivate, the more it will swim throughout your mouth and cover your taste buds. For example, emulsified foods like butter, chocolate, salad dressing, ice cream, and mayonnaise promote a salivary response that helps to lather your taste buds with goodness. This is one reason why many people enjoy foods that have sauces or glazes on them. The result is that foods that promote salivation do a happy little tap dance on your brain and taste better than ones that don’t.

Rapid food meltdown and vanishing caloric density. Foods that rapidly vanish or “melt in your mouth” signal to your brain that you’re not eating as much as you actually are. In other words, these foods literally tell your brain that you’re not full, even though you’re eating a lot of calories.

The result: You tend to overeat.

In his best-selling book Salt Sugar Fat, author Michael Moss describes a conversation with Witherly that explains vanishing caloric density perfectly…

I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it … you can just keep eating it forever.”

Sensory specific response. Your brain likes variety. When it comes to food, if you experience the same taste over and over again, then you start to get less pleasure from it. In other words, the sensitivity of that specific sensor will decrease over time. This can happen in just minutes.

Junk foods, however, are designed to avoid this sensory specific response. They provide enough taste to be interesting (your brain doesn’t get tired of eating them), but it’s not so stimulating that your sensory response is dulled. This is why you can swallow an entire bag of potato chips and still be ready to eat another. To your brain, the crunch and sensation of eating Doritos is novel and interesting every time.


Calorie density. Junk foods are designed to convince your brain that it is getting nutrition, but to not fill you up. Receptors in your mouth and stomach tell your brain about the mixture of proteins, fats, carbohydrates in a particular food, and how filling that food is for your body. Junk food provides just enough calories that your brain says, “Yes, this will give you some energy,” but not so many calories that you think, “That’s enough, I’m full.” The result is that you crave the food to begin with, but it takes quite some time to feel full from it.

Memories of past eating experiences. This is where the psychobiology of junk food really works against you. When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of potato chips), your brain registers that feeling. The next time you see that food, smell that food, or even read about that food, your brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when you ate it. These memories can actually cause physical responses like salivation and create the “mouth-watering” craving that you get when thinking about your favorite foods.

All of this brings us to the most important question of all.

Food companies are spending millions of dollars to design foods with addictive sensations. What can you and I do about it? Is there any way to counteract the money, the science, and the advertising behind the junk food industry?


How to Kick the Junk Food Habit and Eat Healthy

The good news is that the research shows that the less junk food you eat, the less you crave it. My own experiences have mirrored this. As I’ve slowly begun to eat healthier, I’ve noticed myself wanting pizza and candy and ice cream less and less. Some people refer to this transition period as “gene reprogramming.”

Whatever you want to call it, the lesson is the same: If you can find ways to gradually eat healthier, you’ll start to experience the cravings of junk food less and less. I’ve never claimed to have all the answers (or any, really), but here are three strategies that might help.

1. Use the “outer ring” strategy and the “5 ingredient rule” to buy healthier food.

The best course of action is to avoid buying processed and packaged foods. If you don’t own it, you can’t eat it. Furthermore, if you don’t think about it, you can’t be lured by it.

We’ve talked about the power of junk food to pull you in and how memories of tasty food in the past can cause you to crave more of it in the future. Obviously, you can’t prevent yourself from ever thinking about junk food, but there are ways to reduce your cravings.

First, you can use my “outer ring” strategy to avoid processed and packaged foods at the grocery store. If you limit yourself to purchasing foods that are on the outer ring of the store, then you will generally buy whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.). Not everything on the outer ring is healthy, but you will avoid a lot of unhealthy foods.

You can also follow the “5 ingredient rule” when buying foods at the store. If something has more than 5 ingredients in it, don’t buy it. Odds are, it has been designed to fool you into eating more of it. Avoid those products and stick with the more natural options.

2. Eat a variety of foods.

As we covered earlier, the brain craves novelty.

While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.

Moral of the story: Eating healthy doesn’t have to be bland. Mix up your foods to get different sensations and you may find it easier than eating the same foods over and over again. (At some point, however, you may have to fall in love with boredom.)


3. Find a better way to deal with your stress.

There’s a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you’re pulled back to junk food.

We all have stressful situations that arise in our lives. Learning to deal with stress in a different way can help you overcome the addictive pull of junk food. This could includesimple breathing techniques or a short guided meditation. Or something more physical likeexercise or making art.

With that said, if you’re looking for a better written and more detailed analysis of the science of junk food, I recommend reading the #1 New York Times best-seller Salt Sugar Fat.

Where to Go From Here

One of my goals with this article is to reveal just how complex poor eating habits can be. Junk food is designed to keep you coming back for more. Telling people that they “need more willpower” or should “just stop eating crap” is short-sighted at best.

Understanding the science behind junk food is an important first step, but I don’t want you to stop there. I wrote a free 46-page guide called Transform Your Habits, which explains strategies for winning the battle against junk food and improving your eating habits. You can download it here.

a tavola – at the dinner table

6 Oct

(post from

Much of Italian life revolves around the family dinner table. Piergeorgio, our guide to food-life in Italy, grew up in Venice in the 1960’s. In this brief memoir, he recounts the feast day meals his family celebrated, as well as family dinners, when times were lean. From Italian table etiquette to the typical dishes that filled the family board, this charming story  carries us right into the present day; as customs have changed with the times, the delicious foods remains the same.

italians at the table

(Piergiorgio Nicoletti)

It’s well known that we Italians are deeply versed in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table.” Perhaps the first thing people think of when they think of Italy is the joy, warmth and magic created around the Italian table. The dinner table is one of the most enduring images and metaphors in Italian art, celebrated in our greatest paintings and films, from the Renaissance to present day. “A tavola” – or “at the table” – our hearts open, and life’s greatest dramas and celebrations unfold. Familial bonds and battles are forged a tavola; the deepest ties of love and friendship are developed and strengthened around a dinner table. We Italians understand and appreciate the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of beautiful food and drink.

For many of us, our first experiences of family feasts and joyous gatherings leave indelible imprints, and my childhood in Venice is filled with memories of such special occasions. The word for “feast” in Italian is festa, and feasts they were: the tables were set so beautifully – silverware and glasses sparkled on the magnificent handmade tablecloth, and crystal carafes of wine and water seemed always filled. But even with extensions, the table often just wasn’t big enough. A solution was always handy: la tavola per i bambini (“the kids’ table”), and we children loved this special zone just for us. The food was always so lovingly prepared and delicious that everyone’s spirits were lifted; and as the meal progressed, the good mood grew in a kind of crescendo – helped along by family jokes, more and more boisterous play, which sometimes culminated in a few rounds of our family’s favorite songs – all accompanied by the seemingly endless flow of good wine and … more good food.


These miraculous feasts would occur on special occasions like Easter, Christmas, birthdays and religious celebrations – and went along with cherished holidays from school or work. But, for the women in the family – mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts – these were not leisurely days, though their joy and excitement was palpable too. The meals on such occasions would usually begin around 1:00 pm (except for Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, when dinner was served late) and would last for hours. For these feasts, there would be an antipasto; our family favorite was vitello tonnato – sliced roasted veal with a blended tuna and mayonnaise sauce. This course would be followed by lasagne alla Bolognese, or a risotto ai frutti di mare (seafood risotto), or pasticcio ai funghi – which for us was baked pasta, or a baked filled pasta (such as, tortelloni or agnolotti), with besciamella sauce and wild mushrooms. (I was crazy about lasagne, and my younger brother loved dessert, so secret deals were always being made “under the table”: he would discretely give me his second helping of lasagna and I would give him most of my dessert.) After one of these primi(first courses), came the roasted meats – such as, brasato, which was a delicious, dark, slowly stewed beef dish, or roasted veal (vitello arrosto). For dessert, we would have a simple torta (cake) or else a tiramisu. Finally, the adults would have coffee and a digestivo, such as grappa or Fernet, while we children were happy to be released from the table to run wild in the calli or fondamenta (side streets) of Venice, where no cars ever interfered with our games.

These were the special feste (plural form for “feasts”); of course, our everyday dinners were something else entirely. Growing up in a family of six kids in Venice, in the ’60s, our dinners followed a very different rhythm than they do today. After a long, loud “A tavola, è pronto!” (“Come to the table …. dinner’s ready!”) was bellowed out by whoever set the table that evening, the rest of us had just a few moments to wash our hands, turn off the lights and get downstairs. “Ti sei lavato le mani, hai spento le luci?” (“Did you wash your hands and turn off the lights?”) was asked so automatically and routinely that the words were barely discernible. Though we weren’t supposed to start eating before our parents were seated, usually our mother would call out her permission for us to go ahead and start without her while she finished up in the kitchen – cooking dinner for eight hungry people every night was no easy task.

Respect for elders is deeply ingrained in Italian children; if grandparents are present at the table – a more common scenario in the rural parts of Italy than in urban centers like Venice – special attention and deference is always shown to them at mealtimes. In our household, our grandparents were seldom present, and though dinners were not formal occasions, certain formalities were always observed. As in just about every Italian family, tablecloths were always used for lunch and dinner, as well as cloth napkins – though my mother insisted that we first clean our mouths, often covered with tomato sauce, with a piece of bread before using the cotton napkins. Elbows were not allowed on the table and no hand in the lap either – whichever hand was not being used was placed, loosely closed, on the table; forks, spoons and knives had to be handled correctly. Bickering about portions and who might have gotten the better serving – the last pasta plates served always got the most sauce – was promptly squelched by one of our parents.

The fifties and early sixties were very difficult times in Italy; the effects of the war were still keenly felt here. In those postwar years, a two-course dinner was the norm, but there were no luxury foods on the table. Most families had pasta or soups for primo (the first course), and then some form of meat, cheese or “salume” (cured meats) forsecondo (the main course). The pasta was often seasoned with a simple onion-based tomato sauce (in the summer, fresh tomato and basil); or sometimes a ragù (meat sauce); or simply butter and parmigiano. Pasta was never sautéed in that era; rather, it was placed in a large serving bowl and the sauce was ladled on top. Soups were healthy and simple: minestrone (vegetable soup); pasta e fagioli (bean soup); or pasta in beef or chicken broth, which is calledminestra in brodo. Meat was expensive and therefore served in very small portions, and prepared in a variety of ways – sometimes cotolette (breaded and fried beef, chicken or turkey cutlets), or spezzatino (stewed meat), or brasato(braised beef). A real favorite in our family was what we called carne alla pizzaiola, which was a ground-beef patty with a sauce made from canned tomatoes, topped with mozzarella and oregano. Salad or vegetables were often served along with the meat course. Antipasti and dolci (dessert) were not commonly served at home during these less affluent years, though sometimes fruit was served for dessert (or eaten as a snack in the afternoon). For a special treat, we would have gelato (ice cream) at the nearby gelataio.


But dinner wasn’t the only meal eaten at home by the entire family. In those years, children and husbands came home for lunch every day. In my family, that meant my mother would have to prepare lunch in three shifts to accommodate all our different schedules. It was a daily ritual for two or three of us to stop at the nearby panificio (bread bakery) on our way home from school and buy over a dozen of the various small loaves of bread (panini) to accompany our lunch. At least several of those little loaves would be devoured before we ever reached the door. Our consumption of bread in those years was enormous, which was typical for Italian families then; bread and pasta were how we filled our stomachs.

The daily routine is quite different nowadays – the foods are more varied and the habits less formal. Families are smaller in Italy than they used to be, and one-parent households more common. When there are two parents working outside the home, the shopping, cooking and clean-up are often more evenly shared. Today, Italian kids eat lunch at school – which makes a huge difference in the routine – as working parents are unable to attend to them at home in the middle of the day.

get smart about your pasta shapes

1 Oct

[Photograph: Craig Cavallo] again another post from serious eats. As you can see i go here to get inspired. Tonnes of information on this site, a lot of it pertain to questions that i have on the daily about italian food and product. I am not a chef by any means, and i haven’t done all the research myself, but i think that it’s great to have a collection of posts that inspire us here at Porzia. AND>>>>>>>> on with it……

Oil shimmers in a pan on one burner. On another, a fat pot of water rolls at a full boil. You’re making pasta for dinner, but which one, and why?

Maybe you’re still at the supermarket, walking the miles of aisles of Italian pastas with names like creste, gramigna, and strozzapretti. And if you’ve never heard of half of them, you’re not alone. Today’s groceries can carry dozens of pasta shapes, each suited for their own sauces and cooking methods. How do you know what to do with them all? Think like a chef and get nerdy about it.

“There’s a reason for all pasta shapes,” says Michael White, chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group, whose restaurants include Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, and others. “Not each and every sauce goes with each pasta shape.”

Think Regional


Trofie. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

The star of White’s roster is at Marea, where he pairs the short, twisted pasta fusili with fatty bone marrow and spindly octopus that mimic’s the pasta’s curls. And at Ai Fiori, one of his signatures is squid ink-blackened Trofie Nero with Shellfish Ragu. “We make the pasta in house, but you can buy the same shape at grocery stores or specialty Italian food marts,” says White.

Trofie Nero from Ai Fiori. [Photograph: Evan Sung]

Trofie, which looks like meat pulled from a crab’s claw, “comes from Liguria and is twisted loosely,” White explains. The Ligurian coast is famed for its seafood, and trofie’s short length and loose curls are natural bedfellows with shellfish like crab and scallops. When it comes to buying pasta, it helps to put yourself in the mindset of those who first made it.

If you have trouble finding trofie, White recommends fusili or penne.

Mind Your Geometry

“Many different pastas go with many different sauces,” says Marc Vetri, the chef and owner of Vetri in Philadelphia. Vetri has spent the past two years writing a book called Mastering Pasta. On the topic of shape and sauce, he says, “I tackle this issue several times throughout the book.” For him, “Putting a certain pasta with a certain sauce is really a matter of tradition and personal preference.”

One of his preferences is to pair Funghi Porcinia proprietary dried pasta sold by Setaro, with Chianti-braised snails. The dried porcini mushrooms that flavor the pasta (and pair well with the wine sauce) grow in the same muddy environs as those snails, and the tight, tangled curls of pasta mimic the snail’s shells. It’s a pasta dish that doesn’t just pair flavors, but also makes a neat biological pun.

Should funghi porcini prove too scarce, Vetri suggests radiatori—little steam-radiator-shaped pasta—instead.

Use New Pasta for Old Tricks


Bucatini. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens are fresh from a ten-year anniversary with their Brooklyn stalwart Franny’s, where an innovative approach turns local, seasonal, farm fresh ingredients into exceptional salads, pizzas, and pastas. “They are inextricably linked,” Feinberg says of the relationship between pasta shape and sauce. “Pasta is shaped specifically to catch sauce and sauces are created for the various pasta shapes.”

One of the latest creations by John Adler, Franny’s Executive Chef, isBucatini with Guanciale, Pea Shoots, and Pine Nuts, a spare pasta dish sauced with rendered guanciale that some home cooks might do with plain spaghetti. But bucatini has a firmer bite. The fat noodle’s hollow center soaks up sauce especially well, and as the noodles twist around your fork the rest of the dish’s ingredients get caught in the tangle.

Bucatini with guanciale, pea shoots, and pine nuts at Franny’s. [Photograph: Craig Cavallo]

“I was standing in the walk in snacking on freshly delivered pea shoots,” Adler began, “when one of my cooks brought me some of the pine nuts they’d just pulled out of the oven.” That’s how the pasta got started; bucatini filled the pasta role and guanciale, cured pork jowl, became a natural addition. “It’s one of my favorite ingredients in pasta, and it is most often found used with Bucatini in classical Roman cuisine.”

Bucatini is easier to find these days, and if you’re looking for a change from your spaghetti routine, it works well with spaghetti-friendly sauces.

Check Your Die


Spaghettoro with rough, sauce-clinging edges. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Even with simple pastas like spaghetti carbonara, it pays to mind your details. At Chicago’s Spiaggia, the spring menu will include a carbonara “served by the gram (starting at 50 grams), and we’ll be using Verrigni’s spaghettoro pasta, which is cut through a gold die,” says chef Tony Mantuano.

“Soft metal dies like gold or bronze,” Mantuano points out, “create more grooves and grain along the pasta edges that allows for the sauce to grasp onto the pasta and create a wonderful flavor.” Pasta made this way is more expensive, because the tough dough breaks down the pricey extruders over time, but the gain is well worth it—a pasta that clings more tightly to its sauce.

Consider How You’re Eating It


Maltagliati cooks into soft, floppy sheets. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Most of the pastas on the menu at Mario Batali’s ten-year-old Greenwich Village haunt Otto use dried pasta. One of them, Taccozzette con Stracotto, is a classic ragu. Pork shoulder braises in red wine and balsamic vinegar for hours. Taccozzette, a flat pasta with frilled edges, catches the shreds of meat after they’ve been tossed with tomato sauce.

“As for the taccozette,” says Dan Drohan, the restaurant’s executive chef for more than eight years, “I just loved the shape and had not seen it before.” But it has a practical purpose, too. The pasta to ragu ratio in this dish is 50/50. You could use rigatoni or penne, but wide, flat taccozzette has a smart shape to capture all that sauce. You pick it up with spoon or fork and discover, when the pasta’s gone, that little sauce remains.

Taccozzette con stracotto at Otto. [Photograph: Craig Cavallo]

“Normally,” Adler says, “I follow the guidelines of chunky sauce = short noodle, smooth sauce = long noodle.” Drohan takes an intuitive approach. “Choosing the right shape for the right sauce can be very subjective,” he says. “I just try to go with what makes sense.” And so should we all. That is, after all, how this whole pasta pairing business got started.

“There are traditions behind the combinations that people have come to know and love in Italian cuisine,” Vetri says. “That’s where the rules come in. Many of those combinations were born of necessity, created by housewives who struggled to feed their families and came up with interesting ways to turn everyday ingredients into something new to eat.”

So keep practicality in mind. If the sauce is easy to scoop up with a fork, the pasta should be, too. If you’re making pesto, look for long noodles that cling well. Does the asparagus, spring onions, and baby carrots you cut up for primavera look like penne? Use penne then. It’s worth having a few shapes of pasta in your pantry to experiment.

And then if you need some more inspiration, keep Vetri’s words in the back of your mind: “Rules be damned for most combinations.”

manners Matter – Dealing with Dietary Demands

28 Sep

(excerpt/post from  manners matter)

Dear Molly,


How far must one go to accommodate food issues with guests? I now ask people to let me know about preferences, allergies, limitations, etc. when I invite them over for a meal. I’ve chosen to do this after being contacted by a Thanksgiving guest two days before the feast to announce she was now vegan. While I did have a couple vegetable dishes which met her requirements, it was a little unnerving to have to find something suitable to modify or add to the menu at that late date. Not everyone responds so I assume they will eat anything. Do I need to follow up to be sure?

Just Trying to Feed My Guests



Dear Just Trying to Feed My Guests,

Dietary differences can make these trying times for hosts, to be sure. A while ago I found out that when people invited us over and asked if we had any dietary restrictions, my husband was telling them that he was a vegetarian. He was (and is) eating much less meat than he used to, but he does/will eat meat and is most definitely not vegetarian. I was outraged. Outraged, I say! How dare you, I chastised him (not our usual dynamic, I assure you), put people to extra work when the fact is you will eat anything?

The importance of guests not making themselves more of a nuisance than necessary, though, is not your question.

How far must you go? Sounds like you’re doing quite nicely. It is kind and considerate of you to ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences. Good guests will let you know. Good guests will, in fact, let you know immediately. They may even respond with something along the lines of “How kind of you to ask. I have been trying to eat less meat lately, but honestly, I eat everything. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.” Such a response allows the host room to cater to the guest’s preferences, without feeling the pressure of actual restriction.

For actual restrictions, thoughtful guests will provide some guidelines. Something like, “How kind of you to ask. As luck would have it, I’m lactose intolerant and can’t eat this specific thing and that specific thing. I’m fine with something-a-host-might-wonder about, though. Thanks so much for for asking, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.” Or “How kind of you to ask. I’m not sure if you already know, but Bill and I don’t meat—beef, pork, or chicken. We do, however, happily eat fish and seafood. I appreciate you asking and hope this isn’t too much trouble. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.”

While I completely respect someone’s decision to eat vegan, I find the decision to do so two days before Thanksgiving difficult to understand (that’s the nicest way I can think to put it). Sounds like you handled it with grace.

Do you need to follow up? If you’re worried, it sounds like you do. You could send a note along the lines of “Hi Nate, I hadn’t heard back from you and just wanted to check and see if either you or Naomi have any dietary restrictions (or even just preferences!). I’m planning the menu tomorrow, so please let me know a.s.a.p. If I don’t hear anything from you I’ll assume you guys happily eat everything!”

Let it be known, however, that if I invited someone to my house and specifically asked them if they had any dietary preferences and I heard nothing back I would 1) assume they ate everything and 2) think long and hard before inviting them again. We are all busy and we all get lots of email and voicemails, we also all have the 60-some seconds it takes to write one of those emails above (I timed it) to be polite to the people kind enough to invite us to dinner.

Comfortable Kitchen interview with Basilio Pesce

26 Sep


I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Basilio (Bas) Pesce, owner and Chef of Porzia located in Parkdale, Toronto. Bas brings to Porzia his rich Italian heritage, culinary school, both as a student and a teacher, and experience in some of the finest restaurants in Toronto. Enjoy reading about Bas’s passion for amazing food, freshness of ingredients, work and home balance, Toronto’s food scene, culinary school, social media and much more.

How do you source and utilize local fresh ingredients?

In the summer our supplier list grows exponentially. Every Tuesday, which is our day off, I go up to Top Tomato Farm, to the retail division at 19th Street Farmers Market, and load the car with whatever is fresh. Everything is grown on the farm – it’s what you wish your produce section at Loblaws would look like. We deal with a lot of small producers; you won’t see a Sysco truck parked out front.

What is your first memory of food?

I always associate food with family and a big get together. There was always way too much food. Both grandmothers (from the same small town in southern Italy) would just be just cranking out the food every Sunday. I come from a very food rich family, which I didn’t realize when I was young, then I became older and started to understand the North American diet. I never went to McDonalds, never ate macaroni and cheese, I never ate that growing up. My mother just didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to explore food on my own. Wow this shitty McDonalds is really shit and good at the same time.

Basilio_Pesce_Comfortable_KI’ve read that being a Chef was not your first career path?

No, not at all. When I was kid I wanted to be Winnie the Pooh for the longest time, no pants, sit around in a shirt and eat honey all day, LOL. I went to Humber to become a paramedic, which didn’t work out. I worked in nightclubs as a promoter for years. I didn’t really have a lasting hobby or an interest strong enough as a kid. Like I mentioned, food was always there – I always cooked at home. If I wasn’t fighting with my sisters I would end up in the kitchen while the guys would watch soccer and fall asleep.
Comfortable Kitchen (CK) – Cooking also meant you didn’t have to clean.
BP – Boys in an Italian house never clean, LOL.

Growing up what would a typical meal be?

The classic three courses. During the week it would always be pasta, salad and various meat, chicken, fish or steak. I ate pasta every day. If we weren’t having pasta it meant we were eating somewhere else. On Sundays it was usually minestrone, a meat (veal, lamb or meatballs) cooked in tomato sauce, pasta with sauce and salad. My grandparents had a pretty good garden in their backyard. We ate a lot of zucchini flowers. I remember they wouldn’t even let the zucchini grow, it was all about the blossoms. During the large meals they would make a bread or pizza. What I knew of Pizza was foccacia; I didn’t know pizza as you know it.
CK – Was it still topped?
BP – Yeah, but it was topped with three little pieces of tomato, drowned in olive oil and salt, so incredibly good!


Working with Mark McEwan was without a doubt a great start to your professional culinary career. While working for him what did you learn that you would consider invaluable as you stand here today in your own restaurant?

He taught me how to work! Work ethic, organizing yourself, how to be a strong individual, and learn from your mistakes which are the basic elements of any job. Coming out of culinary school and working for Mark at North 44 during it’s heyday meant serving 400 people on a Saturday. You had to work, you had to be stronger than the guy beside you. Mark taught me how to think of yourself as a machine, you had to be quicker, stronger and faster than the day before. The menu was big, everything had to be precise, I look back now and think about the menu which was 4 pages long and 40 items on the menu, just crazy, not sure how I did it. It was also the first time I experienced products that were the best of the best. The quality of the food, items or ingredients were phenomenal. The steak was USDA prime, you couldn’t buy better meat.

When you decided that being a Chef was your lot in life, was opening your own restaurant an immediate goal or did it happen over time?

It was immediate, I knew once I went to culinary school I wanted to open my own restaurant. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything, it was just something I knew. I wasn’t young when I went to cooking school, I was 26. I’ve always been very independent so going to culinary school was part of the steps needed to have my own restaurant. I was very calculated with the steps needed to get here. I’ve only worked for two people in the city, Mark McEwan and Oliver & Bonacini

Although resumes often require the formality of going to culinary school, I’ve had a few chefs tell me that culinary school is useless and the cooking they did at home and the experience in a restaurant was invaluable to their careers. What’s your take?

Yes and no. 99 percent of what you learn is going to be hands on in the job anyway. Culinary school is good for a few things. I would say a lot of it is not the end all and be all. If I’m hiring someone I’m not going to choose someone over the next because they went to George Brown or Humber. I hire on attitude. If you’re a great cook that went to school but have a shitty attitude, you’re not getting hired, I don’t care. If you don’t have as strong a skill set, didn’t go to school, but have a great attitude, I’ll probably take you on. I taught at George Brown for 2 semesters. Not to throw stones at the establishments because there are a lot of great people that have come out of culinary school. I don’t feel it’s important. It comes down to your attitude, who you work with and how you learn. When I did my co-op for culinary school at North 44, I was required to do 20 hours in a week, I did 60. I put my head down, did what I was told. School gives people a very false impression what the industry is like. The industry now is so broad and general, you have to be specific to what you want to do. I want to be a chef, work in catering, product development, a food stylist or a nutritionist. The umbrella is enormous. There are 3 different types of students, kids out of high school, people that graduated university with a degree and my BA is only going to get me a job at the Gap and I need to learn or a trade or spend another 4 years and $40k at school. Or you get the 40 year old Bay Street broker that loves cooking and wants to make a career out of it. At George Brown I had 24 students in my first class of year one culinary students. 2 out of those 24 students will probably be in the industry after 2 years and 1 after 5 years, it’s just how it is.

When you opened Porzia and told your mother the name what was her response?

I think she cried for 2 days, then she bragged about it for a week and then came in expecting to get free meals. LOL

Does owning a restaurant and being a chef ever become stressful with the expectation, to evolve, create new flavor profiles, new dishes and be cutting edge?

Yes, you’re always gathering information from what you see, what you eat what you read. It’s a fulltime thing you never turn off.
CK- How to do you create?
BP – I don’t think I’m creative at all.
CK – But you are.
BP – Take our carpaccio for example, we use horse instead of beef, traditionally it’s parm, lemon and arugula. That’s not really exciting, thinking how can we make this a little nicer. We do a set egg yolk on top, fried capers and take the idea of Vitello Tonnado. It’s really the amalgamation of three dishes.
CK - I would say that’s creative.
BP – I don’t think thats creative at all, I think you’re combining three dishes.
CK – Life is gonna be a remix.
BP – Life is a big remix. There aren’t really new ideas in food, people get inspirations from everywhere and it’s those inspirations that develop new dishes or recipes. We have a Bolognese. How do you take something that’s super traditional and make it great. We don’t try to reinvent it, we make it great and get really good a reception from it.


When opening a restaurant location is paramount, I’m sure the process can cause some sleepless nights. Was Parkdale the obvious choice or did you look at other locations?

There were other areas, this was the 4th location we looked at. There were other areas that were way too expensive and a little out of my league. We actively pursued 2 other locations before we signed the lease here. Parkdale is great and was always an area we hung out in. Friends of ours did a night at the Parkdale Drink so we’d come down every Friday night, my tattoo artist is across the street, I used to hang out at the Mascott a lot. The neighborhood is established although there’s been a shift in the type of establishments that have opened over the last 4 years. Local Kitchen, P&L, Chantecler, the Geraldine, Food and Liquor, Grand Electric, Electric Mud, Small Town Food Co, Glory Hole Doughnuts, and Bertrand Alépée is opening at the old Brown Sugar place. It’s a great area, worth the treck and worth exploring if you haven’t already.

Have you ever wanted to put a dish on the menu or is there a dish currently that doesn’t make sense from a food cost or labor perspective but you’re so passionate about it that needs to be there?

All of them..LOL We do a truffle dish in December which we charge for but the amount of truffles we give is astronomical. This is a McEwanism, when people come into your restaurant to order truffles, caviar, lobster or foie gras you better not cover it with shit. If you’re ordering an item like that it better be prominent. I’ve been to restaurants, you order a lobster risotto with mascarpone and there’s half a claw in it. You have the balls to charge $38 for this. We do a tagliatelle dish with either white or black truffles, it’s pasta, truffles and butter, we charge $29 for the black and $39 for the white. With the amount of grams we give, we probably broke even but it’s such a nice dish. It’s truffles..LOL


One comment when you opened was you were 2 years late to rustic Italian. How would you respond to this?

This city goes through waves, we went through the taco wave and even restaurants that weren’t Mexican had a taco on their menu. We went through the noodle wave, now it’s Spanish. I know exactly what you’re referring to and who made it. You can’t pay attention it, they’re entitled to their opinion. Like anything in life the cream always rises to the top, look at how many taco places have closed. The ones that are good at being restaurants like Grand Electric and La Carnita are the guys that will be around. I left here at 1am on Wednesday and Grand Electric’s dining room was still half full with people eating, in Parkdale at 1am, crazy. Fads are fads and you can’t pay attention to it.

Social media is here to stay, there are a lot of benefits from being able to market yourself, create and exhibit a personality, advertise and get instant feedback. Owning a business you pour your heart into, how do you deal with the public voice being heard loud and clear, positive or negative?

I don’t mind negative feedback, it’s a great way to learn. You have to understand you will never please everyone. Social media is enormous and is a huge platform for people’s voices. I wouldn’t say a problem but the negative drawback is people use the platform but don’t know how to complain anymore. There was a time when if you didn’t have a good experience you told the restaurant and they would make up for it. If you’re a good restaurant you make sure that customer doesn’t leave sour and you turn it around. Now with Social Media people don’t give you that opportunity. They’ll post the next day that the pasta was too salty. , Why didn’t they say the pasta was to salty and we would make them a new one. It’s okay to post it on the internet but it’s not okay to say something? People are losing that face to face contact where you don’t know how to complain and you don’t allow people to recover. With social media everyone is a critic and the one qualm I have is not allowing people to make up for their mistakes.


Being a chef, (any demanding career) in a relationship, business owner and father – how do you balance it all.

You don’t…LOL You make it work, you have to and you don’t have a choice. If you don’t something will crap out on you. My first priority is my son. I still work everyday and prepare all the pasta. The weeks I don’t have my son I work 14 hour days and the weeks I do I pick him up at 5. It’s accepting that most nights you get 3 hours of sleep. It’s accepting the imbalance and being ok with it.

Whenever an article is written about Toronto food, it’s always followed by – when will Toronto get there on a world stage, what more could you ask from a food scene?

The food here is amazing but for some reason the recognition isn’t. In Toronto you can get a great $6 meal and you can get a great $300 meal. Our level of food is comparable to any city out there that I’ve experienced but I feel that the recognition hasn’t gone mainstream yet. There are a lot of great restaurants in this city that are horribly underrated but are easily comparable to all the other popular restaurants that people make a big deal out of.

Are there plans to open Porzia 2?

Number 2 for sure although it will be very different.
CK – How would it be different?
BP – It’s too hard to replicate or cookie cutter what we’re doing here. How it will be different? I’m not sure at this time.

Do you ever feel the need to escape your Italian roots from a cooking perspective and tackle a new cuisine?

All the time. I would love to open a Thai restaurant. I spent a lot of time in Thailand and it’s the perfect balance of spice, sour, salty, sweet – everything makes sense.
CK- Would you consider that a difficult cuisine to nail?
BP – Definitely. There’s not a lot of people from Thailand in Toronto so it’s difficult to find here.

I live in Mississauga, even with 700K people the food scene is non-existent. We finally have Burgers Priest. Can I twist your arm to make the move?

LOL..I’ve had this conversation with a lot people. If we were to take this restaurant brick for brick and put it at the corner of Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe, that’s the only intersection I know of in Mississauga..LOL Would we be successful? You can’t think yeah I know how to cook and run a restaurant. Does the Toronto formula work in Mississauga? If you were to take Buca, Bar Isabel or The Black Hoof to Mississauga would it work? I wouldn’t be opposed to opening in Mississauga but not with this formula.

Favorite Restaurants in Toronto?

I can tell you where I go, Pho Phoenix, Bar Buca, Buca is one of my favorites. Unfortunately I don’t get time to go there often. P&L is my Sunday escape. Pai which I would say is the best Thai food in the city.

One Italian dish you couldn’t live without.

Pasta, spaghetti with bolognese or aglio e olio and enough chilis to fuckin make you cry.


What’s more important in cooking, technique or ingredients?

If you have a great ingredient you better have the technique to back it up. With a shitty ingredient you’ll try to mask it with good technique and with great ingredients you need technique to get the most out of it. It can’t be one or the other.

Favorite Food outside of Italian?

Hummus. It’s alarming how much I go through. It’s easy, good for you. Vietnamese cold rolls, I’ll crush like 6 of them. I really enjoy simple food as well like almost burnt bread with tomatoes and olive oil. I always need a vegetable when I eat to manage that protein overload.


How do you unwind and relax?

When I get home I’ll lay on my floor and watch a show, sometimes have a drink, sometimes it’s four drinks poured into 1…LOL Being a restaurant owner and chef you never really turn it off. I find when I relax the most is when I’m with my son watching his soccer game or just spending time with him.

Favorite Drink?

White Wine, not a big red fan but I do appreciate them. Bourbon or whiskey on the rocks. I can’t fake my way through the day being hung-over anymore, there are just too many things that suffer because of it.

Favorite Cheese?

Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and blue cheeses.

Best meal you’ve ever had?

A best meal is generally based on an experience. I had a meal in Sardinia, Italy. It was all fish, no menu and was referred to us by the bed and breakfast owner where we were staying at. When we got there it was ridiculously busy and was the epitome of communal dining. You sit down and they just start bringing out food, there were 6 cold and 6 hot appetizers. Then you get a bowl of fennel with vinegar on it. This fish was swimming an hour ago, it was incredible. Once you’re done they ask you what you’d like to eat? Who needs more food, are you fuckin kidding me. You then choose steamed, grilled or fried fish. We tried a little bit of everything which is literally three of everything. That experience was about the place, meeting everyone, the energy, it was like being at a family party and it carried on 5-6 hours. It was just that meal where everything after this is gonna suck.

Without a doubt the next time your in Parkdale stop by Porzia and experience a fantastic meal!

Social Media Links
Instagram and Twitter basiliopesce and porziaparkdale

A big thanks to Nelson Campana for the photography. You can reach him through or instagram @nelcam

Ice Cream vs. Gelato

25 Sep

Screen shot 2014-06-05 at 11.21.30 PM

Here’a a post written by Max Falkowitz via Serious Eats about Ice Cream vs. Gelato. Funny that this is a question that always pops up in the restaurant largely because we only serve gelato and are also sandwiched between two gelato places. (go figure) 

Check out their article Ice Cream vs. Gelato. Also a great site to go back to for your random foodie and instructional questions. (TO BE CLEAR – THIS IS NOT MY ARTICLE – THIS IS A #REPOST)



[Photographs: Robyn Lee, unless otherwise noted]

After “what’s your favorite ice cream?”, the question I get asked the most as an ice cream maker is “what makes gelato different from ice cream?” How does gelato get that soft, elastic texture and slow-to-melt milkiness compared to ice cream’s richer, creamier body?

It comes down to three factors: fat, air, and serving temperature. The more complicated answer? Things aren’t always clear cut: this is food, not phylogeny, so individual recipes can blur the lines between the two. But there are some basic differences to keep in mind.

How Ice Cream Works


Gelato fresh from the churn at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, NYC. [Photograph: Laura Togut]

All ice cream is mostly water, and as water freezes, it forms hard, crunchy ice crystals. Besides great flavor, the ultimate goal of ice cream making is to keep those crystals as small as possible through added ingredients and technique. Here’s how ice cream makers fight crystallization:

  • Emulsifying fat into a base (or using already emulsified ingredients, like cream and milk) sticks fat molecules in between water molecules, literally getting in the way of ice as it freezes.
  • Sugar also forms a physical barrier to crystallization, just like fat. When dissolved in water, it forms a syrup with a lower freezing point than plain water, and the sweeter a syrup is (i.e. the higher the concentration of sugar), the lower the freezing point becomes. As water starts to freeze in a syrup, the unfrozen water becomes, in effect, a more concentrated syrup. This process continues until you have a bunch of small ice crystals in a sea of syrup so concentrated that it’ll never really freeze.
  • Air is incorporated into ice cream during the churning process. Just like a light, fluffy angel food cake is easier to cut into than a dense fruit cake, a more aerated ice cream is easier to scoop, and has a fluffier, less dense texture.
  • The temperature ice cream is stored at also has an obvious effect: colder ice creams are harder and more solid, while warmer ones are softer, with a looser texture.

There are some other tricks to keep ice cream soft, such as alcohol, starch, protein (in egg and milk), and natural stabilizers like guar gum and carageenan, but the top four above are the big factors at play.

Ice Cream vs. Gelato


Coffee ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery, NYC. Rich and creamy, but with noticeable fluff and body compared to gelato.

Compared to today’s American-style ice cream (that’s one made with egg yolks, as is basically the new standard in home recipes and commercial products), gelato has less fat in the base and less air churned into it during the freezing process. American ice creams are heavy on the cream, and have a fat content, by American labeling law, of at least 10% (considerably higher in most homemade and many premium versions). Gelato, by comparison, uses more milk than cream, so it doesn’t have nearly as much fat. Additionally, it usually—but not always—uses fewer (to the point of none) egg yolks, another source of fat in custard-based ice creams.

American-style ice creams are churned fast and hard to whip in plenty of air (called overrun), which is aided by the high proportion of cream in the base. The most high-end ice creams have an overrun of 25% or so, which means they’ve increased in volume by 25%; cheaper commercial versions can run from 50% to over 90%, which gives them a light, thin, fast-melting texture that isn’t very flavorful (those bites are a quarter to a half air!). Gelato is churned at a much slower speed, which introduces less air into the base—think whipping cream by hand instead of with a stand mixer. That’s why it tastes more dense than ice cream—it is.

And what about sugar? Well, sugar levels vary wildly in ice cream andgelato recipes, so there’s less of a hard difference there.

If you make ice cream at home, you may be wondering about your ice cream machine: does it churn at ice cream speed or gelato speed? The truth is, most of the consumer models on the market churn at about the same speed, none of which are as fast as the commercial machines used to make American-style ice cream. But you can make both ice cream and gelato in your machine—remember, air is only one of the differences between them.


Soft, dense gelato at L’arte del Gelato, NYC.

All these differences give gelato a more dense and milky texture that’s less creamy than ice cream. It’s not thin, but it lacks the plush, buttery fullness of its American cousin. Some say that gelato has a more intense flavor than ice cream, since it has less of the tongue-coating cold fat that gets in the way of tasting things. But I think it’s more accurate to say that gelato’s flavors come through direct, hard, and fast, then melt away clean. A good, flavorful ice cream can have just as intense a flavor, but you’ll taste it differently. One isn’t necessarily more flavorful than the other.

Temperature’s the Key

So if gelato has less fat than ice cream, and less air pumped into it, why is it not as hard as a brick? How does it get that super-soft, almost elastic texture that looks like a swirl of frosting more than a scoop of ice cream? It’s the last big factor: temperature. Ice cream is best served at around 10°F; gelato cases are set to a warmer temperature. If you freeze gelato really cold, it’ll turn right into the dense, relatively-low-fat brick it has the potential to be. But when warm, it’s that perfect soft-but-not-soupy consistency. If you stored ice cream at a much warmer temperature, it’d get too soupy: the high fat in water emulsion would melt too fast.

A Scoop by Any Other Name

The real ice cream question: 1 scoop, 2, or 20?

I’ve been following the common naming convention in this post, calling American-style ice cream “ice cream” and Italian-style “gelato.” But here’s the thing: gelato’s just the Italian word for ice cream. Though it does stick to the tendencies I’ve pointed out above, individual recipes do vary. Some call for cornstarch, others for egg yolks; some use higher amounts of sugar and others use less.

But it’s all ice cream, just how soft serve is just warmer, freshly churned ice cream, and frozen yogurt is just soft serve made with yogurt as the dairy base. Sure, we can quibble over names and definitions, but at the end of the day, it’s all one happy frozen, creamy family. We can argue about differences, or we can sit down and dig in to a pint together? I know which I’d rather do.


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