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As a kid growing up in Toronto Cristiano Posteraro, 37, would spend summers in Calabria with his grandmother and extended family. “The whole day, the whole summer, was built around food. Everything was just killing time between meals.” When he wanted to go to McDonald’s with his friends back home, Mom would scold him. “Tell me what you want from there and I’ll make it better.” At 13, Cristiano, who admits he wanted for nothing as a child, asked his dad for a bike. “He said, ‘it’s time for you to start earning. Come to the restaurant.'” Dad owned and operated the hugely successful Celestino near Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood, which meant he was often away from the family on evenings and weekends. “It was my chance to see inside his world, and I jumped at it. I started by learning how to clean and prep vegetables and seafood alongside my favourite uncle, Pino. By age 15 I was running the pastry station.” Fast-forward 22 years and Cristiano is still working alongside that uncle. “People say working with family is tough. It’s only tough when you take advantage of the situation. In all these years I’ve never asked my uncle for a day off.”
“I get excited over the juiciest nectarine, a crisp apple, a sweet tomato-it’s the little things now.” It wasn’t always this way. For Gunawan, 32, cooking had long meant thousands of hours perfecting technique in kitchens in Chicago (Les Nomades, Naha), Seattle (Mistral Kitchen), and Vancouver, (Gastropod, West, Wildebeest). And it meant rebelling: Gunawan grew up in Singapore and came to the States at 19 to study civil engineering at Purdue-“In my family education was everything. My choice to follow cooking wasn’t popular. But I loved how different and relevant it was compared to academia. I loved that there was room for misfits.” It meant a raw, chaotic lifestyle, the Marco Pierre White model of work hard, play hard, do it all over again. And it used to mean an egotistical approach: a plate was meant to show off what you could do. Today he’s more philosophical: “For me now, it’s about purity of ingredients. Not masking its essence with tricks. A plate that has just two or three delicious ingredients is more impressive to me than one with 15. That’s courageous cooking.” At his recently opened restaurant, Gunawan continues to evolve what he learned at Gastropod: keep the focus on produce, have a personal relationship with the farmers and suppliers, and highlight the best product you can find. Let the ingredients do the talking.
“First, I had to learn the basics: organization, cleanliness, and efficiency. And then there was time management…” Montgomery Lau, 31, remembers that being the most challenging part of the culinary and pastry program at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. “I had no work experience, but I had this knack for looking at a photo of a dish and being able to taste it, to have a vision of what went into it.” He moved here from Hong Kong when he was five, but traditional Cantonese cooking continued to inform his childhood. At PICA he was schooled in French technique and West Coast ingredients. When he apprenticed with Hamid Salimian at Diva at the Met, Persian flavours melded into his repertoire. “Hamid taught me how to ask, Why? Why not? What if? Cooking in hotels has always provided great structure and formality. There’s a natural progression-you master one station before you’re moved on to the next. And then you work alongside a truly great cook who challenges you with new ideas and new techniques. Hamid expanded my mind and palate.” Continue reading…
“Cooking on the savoury side was fun, but I thought it was too complicated. I liked the structure of pastry. Of course eventually I realized you could be just as creative, complex, and boundary-pushing with sweets.” Case in point: a tiramisu with candy cap mushrooms foraged in Oregon-“a little like smoke and maple”-just one of the imaginative feature items on Fortin’s pastry menu at Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro. There’s a three-course dessert tasting menu, too, smaller portions with intense flavour, an idea inspired by WD50 in New York. “I’ve challenged myself to come up with dairy-, nut-, and gluten-free desserts. I love creaminess, so how do we achieve that without dairy? It’s a fun experiment.” Fortin grew up near Quebec City but began travelling to the West Coast for summer work at age 19 (first to Banff, then to Sooke Harbour House); by 20 he was running pastry at a Japanese restaurant back in Quebec, then it was back to the Wickaninnish on Vancouver Island. Crisscrossing the country, always hungry for inspiration, he found at Bearfoot the right juju. Today, his approach is more focused. “I finish a plate, take a step back, say, What can I remove? I want people to finish my dessert and be looking for another bite, not to be overwhelmed with sugar.
Flipping through the Noma cookbook, looking at the recipes that define today’s hugely influential Nordic food movement, Eligh, 31, was taken aback. “There were echoes from my childhood on those pages. I was shocked to see a super-refined version of the food I grew up on.” Home wasn’t Copenhagen or Oslo, though-it was Victoria, where his Scandinavian mother and Welsh-Canadian father pickled and canned their food, and fed their children lots (and lots) of fish. It wasn’t until university, pursuing a degree in child psychology and working in restaurants to pay the bills, that Eligh thought cooking could be a career. He switched paths and worked in resort kitchens, but it was time spent at Diva at the Met and Market by Jean-Georges that was formative. “When I was young I thought the height of deliciousness was butter and cream. Now that my palate has matured, it’s flavours that are vibrant, herbaceous, acidic that sing. You can send people away with a gut bomb of rich food and that’s wonderful, but they will only want to indulge every once in a while. I want to create light, addictive flavours that keep people coming back.”