A taste of the food to come
My last stint in Italy was in Siena. I got into town at 3 p.m. and found a dingy little hotel room, then stopped at an enoteca (wine bar). I had brought my A game, so I was talking to everybody in there like it was my birthday or something. I was just so damn happy to get out of that lonely hotel in Alba where I was working and living up in the storage room with a leaky roof and a hose for a shower. By dinnertime, I had drunk enough brunello to kill a small deer, so I asked for the bill, but the bartender charged me nothing because she said I had done her job for her. Then she quickly declined when I asked her to come for dinner with me. My mother had told me about a slow food restaurant called Osteria le Logge, so I drifted there by my weaving, weary self. The place looked like a library inside, with big old shelves full of books. The kitchen was beautiful and glassed-in and had all the stoves and ovens set in an island that the chefs worked around. I wasn’t looking forward to eating on my own, but luckily an Italian couple that I had just met earlier at the enoteca spotted me and invited me to their table. The guy, Francisco, has his own vineyard, and the woman was a tree farmer. They were both nice and had their hands in the earth. We talked about tree farming and wine, and we ate like kings—ravioli and rabbit and a steak that barely fit on the plate—and then we sat with Mirco, one of the owners, till three in the morning, sipping grappa and talking about the restaurant business (by then I was telling the world what I was going to do). He stressed that the big part of the game—half the battle, really—is serving stuff in your place that nobody else has and to keep it simple, “like a good engine.”
Good advice. When I got back to Toronto, I spoke to my friend Pierre in Paris about a really good comfort wine his father had found from a small supplier. Pierre had a case of it in his kitchen, and when he let me stay at his place while I was trying to make my way cooking privately, he would crack a bottle every once in a while. It’s sort of light red, but with depth. It’s smooth, rustic and affordable. So he is looking into lining up a few things over there for me to bring some over. Also, my good friend Chris gave me the number of a Spanish supplier, so I hope to have some really nice Spanish charcuterie, as well. Plus, on Wednesday, I am going to Cumbrae’s when they get the pigs and lambs and cows in. I am going to watch and learn from Stephen how they take them all apart. I can’t wait for that because I have been doing nothing lately but stewing, and to spend the day learning some moves with some great butchers will re-inspire me. There is nothing like cutting up whole animals to take your mind off things, so when meat comes into Union, it will not come in a box but over my shoulder.