A believer in the redemptive power of precision, Pino Posteraro, the city's most decorated Italian chef, likes where Vancouver food is going.
I barely sit down for lunch with Pino Posteraro before he launches, apropos of very little, into what people think of him. “I do have a reputation for being – well, they say ‘intense’ or ‘micromanager,’” the Vancouver executive chef and proprietor says with a wink, adding he knows these are euphemisms for “control freak.”
For Posteraro, channeling your inner Gordon Ramsay is par for the course if you are obsessed with food, which he clearly is. He subsequently waxes ecstatically throughout our chat on the discovery of a new truffle from Australia, the quality of Sunshine Coast sturgeon and his recently won battle for an abattoir on Salt Spring Island, which will ensure its lamb is clearly identified instead of being mixed with other meat from, say, Alberta.
But Posteraro also blames the spirited approach on his native Italy, which he left more than two decades ago for a career first in Toronto before setting up Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca in Yaletown in 1999.
“We are very passionate, raising our voices and talking with the hands,” says Posteraro, who lives on the North Shore with wife Raisa and their four children aged from five to 18. “I’m not going to be the sort of person who says, ‘Good job,’ then fire you. Mistakes don’t make me mad; dishonesty and people not paying attention do.”
It’s a toughness that breeds results. The restaurant of 70 staff has won Vancouver Magazine’s award for best formal Italian restaurant nine years running, as well as landing restaurant of the year in 2009 and Posteraro its chef of the year (2008). He has also been a rare invitee to New York’s James Beard House, the upper-echelon gourmet’s institution, where he cooked dinner for such guests as actor Stanley Tucci.
So, despite the popularity of cheap and cheerful eateries peppering much of Metro Vancouver in recent years, Posteraro is sticking to his fine-dining principles. “We are the last of the Mohicans,” he announces as we feast on a showcase of Qualicum Bay scallops, spaghetti and mussels, 24-hour roasted Sloping Hill Farm pork and a shared maple crème brûlée. “People have to be discerning about what they eat, and we should attach the right importance to each level of cuisine. You have to pay for quality and we have to be exclusive in what we use – not many chefs buy truffles for $6,000 a kilo.”
While the 47-year-old avoids fads, he is happy to see the rise locally of more sophisticated ways of eating, such as charcuterie or sous-vide, the vacuum-cooking method, both of which have long been staples in his repertoire. The local food scene – and people’s palates for it – saw an especially healthy decade up to around 2006, according to Posteraro. “There was a tremendous improvement in chefs and suppliers, but right now I’m a bit reluctant to say we are the same as then because everybody is scared of the economy,” he says.
That upsets him, and believing that “routine kills creativity,” he would like to see people still honing their culinary chops and striving for better epicurean creations. After all, without the level of debt being experienced in Europe and the U.S., Vancouver “has had a sense of immunization to the downturn in the economy,” he suggests. “This city has people who buy $14,000 bottles of wine,” continues Posteraro, who takes between 120 to 200 covers a night. “We’re not wine collectors; we build a high-end wine list because there’s a market.”
Outside his 80-hour work week in the restaurant, the Calabria-raised chef heads with his family to his cottage in Cultus Lake or out on hilly runs around his home. Both are ways to de-stress from the one aspect of operating a restaurant with which he has little patience: the HST. While Posteraro is happy to reduce the tax on food from the current 12 per cent to five per cent GST in 2013, he laments the way the harmonized tax was introduced and its impending eradication: “What a mess. Such a loss of time and money for everyone.”
Even then, despite “hating” the business of changing his computer systems back again, there will be no delegation from this micromanager. “Guess what?” he concludes jovially: “I will still manage to get involved.”