Why Vancouver’s best Italian chef refuses to relax

It's another year, another accolade for Pino Posteraro

It’s another year, another accolade for Pino Posteraro

It used to be that Vancouver’s best and brightest had to head to Toronto in order to find the kind of national praise, validation, and attention that they could only receive there. But for Pino Posteraro, it’s been the other way around. He left Toronto more than two decades ago to cook in Vancouver, and on December 4 he returned to Canada’s biggest city to pick up the Pinnacle Award for Independent Restauranteur of the Year for his work at Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill. In the process, he says, he was reminded of why he prefers Vancouver—and why he doesn’t regret leaving Toronto in the first place. “It made me understand that I love Vancouver and I’m glad to be in Vancouver. It was nice to go to Toronto, touch the soil, have the award, spend some quality time with close friends and family, and come back to the reality—which is a beautiful one.”The award he came home with will join the dozens of others (including numerous Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards) that adorn the walls at Cioppino’s, and it reaffirms his place as one of the city’s great chefs. Former Vancouver Magazine editor-in-chief Gary Ross, who got to know Posteraro when he joined the magazine in 2006, certainly thinks he’s earned his place on Vancouver’s culinary Mount Rushmore. “He’s an amazingly inventive and intelligent chef, and his knowledge of food and wine together is unprecedented, as far as I know. Wine people will come in and bring him a bottle of something, let him taste it, and then he’ll go and create a dish to complement the things he’s found in the wine. He knows more about wine than many sommeliers. I’m never seen him stumped—and I’ve seen people try to stump him.” The effect that knowledge has on the experience at Cioppino’s, he says, is obvious. “If you have a credit card and a palate, this is nirvana.”Chef Andrey Durbach, who’s the co-owner of La Buca, Sorella, and The Sardine Can, has watched Posteraro operate at close quarters both as a customer and a fellow restaurant operator for almost two decades. When Durbach opened his first restaurant in Vancouver in 1996, Posteraro had just arrived from Toronto to take over as the chef at Il Giardino across the street. “It was a bit of a David and Goliath thing, but Pino, every once in a while, would come across the street for dinner and offer encouragement. I’m pretty good at what I do, and Pino recognized that early on.”Durbach certainly recognizes the same thing in Pino. “I personally think he’s the best chef in the city. Pino is able to blend modern technique with an absolutely classic outlook, and that’s an aesthetic that I really enjoy and appreciate. He’s the one guy in Vancouver who manages to link old-fashioned stuff to new things.” And while he’s had plenty of memorable meals at Cioppino’s, Durbach says the secret to both its longevity and that of its patriarch is that it isn’t built around individual meals. “For me, the reason that I always come here—and the reason I think Pino is the best—is because there actually isn’t one signature dish or one specific meal. It’s the absolute consistency that really does it for me. When you look at how chefs want to be remembered and what they want to be known for, you’d be surprised. It’s not for mind-blowing individual creations. It’s for delivering absolutely consistent and quality food all the time, forever and for always. And there’s nobody in Vancouver who does it quite like this.”So why, with all the accolades (and, surely, a healthy bank account to boot), does Pino Posteraro continue to come early, stay late, and put in plenty of hours in between? He says he looks at it the same way as an aging soccer player might back in Italy. “Either you retire our you produce. Otherwise there’s going to be some 20-year-old who’s going to kick your ass.” Or, to put it another way, he remembers what Frank Sinatra—yes, that Frank Sinatra—told him when he asked The Chairman a similar question back when he last cooked for him in 1992. “I asked him, ‘after so many years, why are you doing this?’ And he says to me, ‘Kid, you are as good as your last performance.’”