The Master and Art of Italian Cuisine – Vancouver Island Free Daily
– Story by Gail Johnson Photography by Lia Crowe
Restaurants come and go, and then there are those which, like a good wine, only get better with age. Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro has opened Mediterranean Grill and Enoteca de Cioppino in Yaletown in 1999, and it’s been on all of the “best” lists ever since, including Best Italian Restaurants Outside Italy by 50 Top Italy, and that was before its recent $ 2 million renovation.
Big names have dined at Cioppino over the years including Frank Sinatra, Bono, George Lucas, Jennifer Aniston, and Al Pacino. Elvis Costello and Henrik Sedin are local fans. To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Pino cooked for the Italian president atop Mount Grouse.
In response to the pandemic, the legendary chef rode with the restrictions; he started making take-out, posting family-style menus on social media in the mornings, and selling regularly at 4 p.m. Other chefs call him the master. All of this from a humble beginner father of four who hardly did any cooking at all. His success is due to his passion.
âI cook every day,â Pino says. âI love it. When I’m not cooking in a restaurant, I cook at home. It’s in my veins.
He adds: âBeing a successful restaurateur and chef doesn’t mean being on TV every day. It’s doing your job day in and day out, trying to be the best you can be as a human being and being loyal to people.
Pino grew up in Lago, a rural area in the Italian region of Calabria, in a family of eight. Her mother was the only daughter of a baron; As a young woman, she was sent to study with professional chefs in Naples and Rome, not to become a chef herself, but to learn skills for the day she had a family.
Even though their family weren’t rich, Pino says, they ate extremely well.
âMy mom knew how to turn the simplest of ingredients into a masterpiece,â he says. “She would take simple items and cook something delicious.”
He started helping his mother in the kitchen before elementary school. They had a garden, chickens and pigs. Pino recalls the festive ritual of slaughtering pigs, always on a Friday. His mother used the blood to make pudding with chocolate and pine nuts. They cleaned the pig in the river and then stuffed it with peppers that the family had cured a year before. Together they cut the meat by hand, using different cuts for different purposes: some for sausage, others for soppressata, capicola and prosciutto. It was a real one-on-one dinner; food waste did not exist.
Although he loved everything about food – growing, harvesting, preparing and cooking – Pino almost became a doctor. He spent two years in Sicily, attending medical school. What made him change his mind was working with very sick people; he found it too heartbreaking – he wanted to see people happy.
Food was the way to do it. He worked in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and taught at George Brown College, before traveling to Vancouver via Toronto.
More than a way to bring happiness to people, food is a way to share its culture. For this, Pino was named Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy, an award appointed by the Italian President. The knighthood recognizes people who promote Italian prestige and international relations. Pino received the distinction in 2018, the first chef in Canada to do so.
âI never thought I would get this award for what I do every day,â Pino says. âAt the end of the day, we are cooks, but if we promote Italian technique and traditions in Canada, that’s an accomplishment. For over 30 years, my motivation has been to promote Italian culture to the local community, introducing Italian gastronomy to a new generation of Canadians.
Pino is extremely picky about the ingredients he uses, with a demand for perfection that results in consistently superior dishes.
The chef favors local foods such as sustainable wild Pacific salmon, buffalo mozzarella from Vancouver Island, veal from the Fraser Valley, and fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms. It also imports specialty items from Italy that are ethically produced by small artisans, such as saffron from Calabria, Sardinia and Abruzzo.
He will not use foods containing preservatives or genetically modified ingredients. He makes all of his own salami and other types of cold cuts, like organic air-dried bresaola, from scratch. Pino brings organic pigs from Salt Spring Island and Chilliwack, cutting them by hand, never by machine. It has the seasoning down to an exact science. Making fresh pasta is his choice if he is having a bad day.
It’s not just cooking that Pino masters; he also knows as much about wine as many great sommeliers. He personally creates the Cioppino’s wine list, which has a collection of around 45,000 bottles, including many hard-to-find and rare vintages. Part of the restaurant’s recent overhaul, which saw a dividing wall collapse making the entire room more open and airy, was the addition of a spectacular central bar with a 50-bottle wine dispenser by the glass temperature controlled and preservation system.
The chef also brought two state-of-the-art, high-end ovens from Germany, and the new patio is an urban oasis his wife helped design, with greenery like golden and Irish yews.
Whether he’s boxing freshly made lasagna to go (the same kind he enjoyed on Sundays with his family in Italy) or serving celebrities at safe physical distances, Pino is at home in the kitchen. Italian Heritage Month in June is important to him: âIt means strengthening a strong connection with the homeland and bringing it to the attention of the public,â he says.
It all goes back to its unique mission.
âYou do it because it’s a passion,â he says, âa passion for food and cooking and for people.â
Story courtesy of Boulevard review, a Black Press Media publication