Today we’re buzzing with someone a little different! We’ve checked our records and this is indeed the first time that we’re welcoming a chef and restaurateur to the BuzzTalk hot seat.
That’s right, we’re buzzing with Toronto-based restaurant owner and chef Tony Loschiavo, the owner of L-Eat Group.
In the real estate world, Tony’s L-Eat Catering is a go-to caterer for industry events. In the restaurant world, Paese Ristorante, the Italian restaurant that Tony opened in 1989 is known for its excellent dining.
The original Paese is located at Bathurst, near Wilson and a second location recently opened in the heart of the trendy King Street West dining strip.
We talk with Tony about how to push the envelope when you’re working in catering, the trials and tribulations of sausage-making, and what not to do when hosting a dinner party.
BuzzBuzzHome: When did you decide that being a chef was the right career path for you?
Tony Loschiavo: I came from a pretty poor background. My parents immigrated in 1965. My mother was a fabulous cook and made everything from scratch for the simple reason that we couldn’t afford to do it any other way. Because I was the youngest boy in the family, I spent a lot of time with my mother at home. I learned how to cook before it was fashionable. A lot of what my mother taught me then influenced me in the restaurant industry.
But first I went to school and when I finished I became a stock broker. I tried that for awhile but sitting in an office in a tower downtown wasn’t for me. I needed to have more of a creative outlet. So I tried the hospitality industry and I think it was a great choice.
BBH: Do you remember the first dish you perfected at home with your mother?
TL: I think I was really excited when I learned how to make homemade sausage. The natural casings always used to break when you were filling them, so it was very hard to get the speed and handling right.
BBH: When did you get into the restaurant business?
TL: The catering business started in 1983 after a small group of friends who were hairdressers needed to have lunches delivered to them. We started with an antique baby-blue Volkswagen and a guy dressed in a tuxedo and we delivered to all the hair salons in-and-around Yorkville Avenue.
From there our catering business grew, and then in 1989 we opened up the Paese location on Bathurst Street. It allowed us to get a little more creative with the food we made. It seemed like a natural combination of businesses to run. We did it a little different than most restaurants because today you have restaurants that cater, but we started with the opposite.
BBH: L-Eat does a lot of catering for the development industry. What are some events that you’re really proud of?
TL: We’ve done stuff like drive up during a groundbreaking to feed the staff. We do barbecues in the summertime and the wintertime.
One client wanted to have a stand-up reception over the lunch hour in their sales pavilion. The sales pavilion was relatively small and they were having 300 or 400 guests. So what we did was a passed-around plated lunch that was all done on miniature plates. We had some beef, salmon, some that were vegetarian and it was very well-received. They hadn’t seen that before.
We have a client that wants us to set up a lunch cafe in every tower that they’re building and as they move to the next floor, they want the cafe to move with them.
BBH: During the larger events are you on-site giving orders?
TL: During the day we focus on managing the managers. In the evenings I’m usually on-site for the catering. Our restaurants can run on their own for extended periods of time. Catering events are one-off. All the people that are involved in the process are on-site the night of.
BBH: Do you have any advice for the novice dinner party host?
TL: Absolutely! I get asked this a lot. First, don’t practice on your friends. Work within your comfort zone. Don’t experiment for the first time with whole lobsters if you’ve never cooked them before. You don’t need the stress. Make the items you’re confident with — the items that you know you can make flawlessly. Practice on your family, they’re more forgiving.
The second thing is the more that you can do in advance, the better. I don’t wait until the same day to set my dinner table. I’ll do it two days before. I’ll pick the wines the day before so on the night of, I can spend as much time as possible with my guests. It’s not comfortable for them if they’re watching me run around serving them.
I also have my own little game that I play. I make a list of all the people that are coming to my house for dinner and beside that list I’ll make notations on everything I know about their culinary and beverage requirements. Rick doesn’t like mushrooms and his wife doesn’t like rosemary. I don’t want people to eat around the food.
Then, beside this list, I’ll write down what they do like. If I know that somebody has a favourite vodka or scotch, I’ll make sure I have that. When someone comes to the door, I’ll say “Hi, do you want a glass of that buttery chardonnay that you like?”
BBH: What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
TL: In the dead of the winter, my mother used to make this dish that I knocked off a number of years ago. I eat very little meat, so usually my meals at home consist of very simple food. They consist of a lot of seared fish and fresh vegetables. But in the dead of the winter my favourite comfort food is a stewed cabbage with chili pepper and onion and then I do a homemade pork and fennel sausage that sits on top of it. I let it simmer for twenty minutes and serve it with sour cream and hot sauce.
BBH: What’s something envelope-pushing that L-Eat is doing something right now?
TL: We built a bicycle so that we can deliver food in the downtown core for L-Eat Express. Downtown is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate and to find a parking spot when you’re doing a delivery. As the city gets bigger and bigger, it’s way more important to stay local.
We put together a very unique bicycle that has a box on the back of it. The box has a tailgate that flips down and we roll our insulated bakery carts inside them. We’ll be able to go from L-Eat Express over to the towers in 3 minutes and chain our bike out of the street. It’s about to be launched.
BBH: Who’s going to be driving the bikes?
TL: I’m an avid cyclist, so it might be me!
Thanks for buzzing with us Tony!
We got this recipe straight from Paese’s executive chef, Christopher Palik’s recipe book. He’s been named one of Toronto’s “Top Rising Chefs” in Now Magazine and after you whip up this Roasted Golden Beet Salad with Arugula and Goat Cheese, you’ll see why.
Makes 4 salads
Citrus dressing: Zest of 1 orange, Juice of three oranges, Extra virgin olive oil 125 ml, Salt a pinch
In a small jar with a tight fitting lid combine the zest, juice, olive oil and salt. Place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously.
Beet salad: 4 medium sized golden beets, 3 large handfuls of Arugula, 1/4 cup of toasted pistachios, 1/4 of pomegranate seeds, 1/2 cup of goat cheese, sea salt, citrus dressing
Pre-heat an oven to 350F. Place the beets in an oven proof dish and place in the oven. Cook the beets until a paring knife inserted comes out easily (about 2 hours). Once the beets have cooled down, gently peel off the skins. Slice the beets into 1/4 inch thick slices.
To serve, lay down four plates. Arrange each beet in a circular pattern on the plate, place a small handful of arugula on top of the beets, scatter the pistachios, pomegranate seeds and the goat cheese over the four plates and dress with the citrus dressing. Finish with a pinch of sea salt.