1. Tell us about yourself…
Born and raised in Windsor Ontario Canada to an Italian father and Serbian mother. I was surrounded by great cooks and food brought my family together — whether it was my mom frying schnitzel, or my nonno (grandfather) cooking wild rabbit in the morning.
I studied culinary at St. Clair College, did my apprenticeship under Chef Michael Anthony, wrote and passed my red seal exam in 2012. I’ve worked at 14 different restaurants all the way from dish pit to executive chef in the busiest ‘3 location’ restaurant, taught culinary with the college, and now I’m the proud chef of a unique concept called Cortina Gourmet Market.
2. How did you get into the culinary industry?
I was always inspired by the food that locals eat in my city, especially the incredible street or fast food the area had to offer. It’s directed me on my culinary journey.
At the age of 14 I took a job in Little Italy (Erie Street) at a place called Magenta cafe as a short order cook making gourmet sandwiches and salads, doing dishes, making espressos and cleaning the cafe every night. I began to take it seriously when I started working with chef Michael Anthony. He is the reason I went to culinary school and dedicated my life to this at such an early age.
Most of my fellow chefs have left Windsor for bigger cities and more financially sound jobs. I’ve made it a point to not leave. We are small town with big city ideas, and I want to be at the front of the line when people hear about the food of our city.
3. Describe your kitchen…
I designed every angle of my kitchen but what I’m most proud of is our culture. I strive to promote imagination, tradition, and encourage everyone to challenge each other to do something different. My team is small and very close. They each have individual perspectives and tastes and that’s what makes them so powerful as a team. (Shout out to Kerryk, Raffael, Razz, Kira, Sorraya and Joe!)
4. Tell us about the food at Cortina Gourmet Market….
We bake bread every morning. Pastries are prepped on a constant throughout the day. We have a hot and cold table where we serve an always changing lineup of food. Some of those items include roasted vegan truffle wild mushrooms with organic arugula, buttermilk fried chicken, lasagna, chicken fatina and Cacio Pepe pasta. The sandwich bar has 12 signature choices like the Cortina that has shaved ribeye steak.
5. How are you redefining Italian Street Food?
At one time during my career my passion for food was fading. Then I traveled to Europe where I found that passion again and started to study the local street food. I married the love of my life, Virginia, in her home town of Alcamo Sicily and then we travelled. When I came home I purchased my first denim apron from the Chef Works website and I can’t make this up, I started to break the rules in cooking traditional Italian.
- I roast the pig like they do in China because it makes the skin crispier.
- I’m making meatballs with sausage meat and fresh fennel.
- I’m grilling mortadella on charcoal, treating it like corn beef.
- I’m using linguini noodles instead of rice for my rice balls.
But the most important part of the food is the fact that everything we use comes from around us. That’s what Italians do best — they eat what’s around them. If it’s not growing during that season, then they don’t eat it. That is fundamental to sustainable cuisine and also quintessential to Italian street food.
6. Favourite dish to make?
Porchetta (roast pig).
I take the fillings and flavours of my European/Italian heritage, pork shoulder lemon Molega (bread crumbs), pancetta and a couple other secret ingredients, salt cure the skin for two days, then crackle the skin Chinese bbq style.
7. Favourite ingredient to work with?
I have two favourite ingredients. The first one is chillies or hot peppers. I like to make food spicy — it’s my Italian nature, but over my travels in Roma and Sicilia, I learned that chilli isn’t just to make the food hot, but to build layers of flavor. It pairs with the salt and the sweet and brings balance to the dish.
My other favourite ingredient is a bit different. Pasta water. It is the secret ingredient to Italian cooking. For example, the true pasta Alfredo has no cream in it, the sauce is a blend of unsalted butter, Romano cheese and you guessed it, pasta water. The starch and the salt in the water bring life to any dry dish or loose sauce.
8. Where does your inspiration for new dishes come from?
Traveling, tasting, reading, going to farms learning as much as I can about this wonderful world of cuisine and ethnicity. My Family and my wife Virginia inspire me everyday, and the people I work with.
I would also have to mention the two great chefs, Marco Pierre White for his technique and love for labour, and the late Anthony Bourdain for showing me that food is more than just what we eat or cook but a way of life.
9. What’s in the pipeline for you and Cortina Gourmet Market?
We’re in the process of expanding by bringing in seating, a pizza oven, an arancini bar and local beer and wines.
In Windsor, our pizza is very important. We are trying to introduce a new style of pizza which is famous in Roma, Pizza al taglio (slice pizza). 72 hour fermented bread dough baked in rectangular trays. They are light and crunchy. After the bake we top them with, for example, paper-thin sliced Parma prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved Romano and finished with chilli oil on top of white pizza. They are sold by weight or by slice — half or full tray.
10. Your all-time best culinary tip?
The worst mistake you can make is to lock yourself in the kitchen to strive for this impossible thing called perfection. I missed 10 years of my life with family and friends because I was looking for something in my kitchen I couldn’t attain. Chefs at all stages in their culinary career need to continue learning inside and outside the kitchen. Your technique and skills aren’t enough anymore. Keep asking questions, read more books, go on that trip, taste that food push yourself, don’t get comfortable.
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