The Chef and I
In conversation with Stefano Faita about his Italian-flavoured holiday menu, now available at Pusateri’s
This past summer, I had a revelatory dinner. The setting was my favourite neighbourhood restaurant. The meal was my favourite seafood risotto. What made the evening memorable was my dining companion—the infectiously charming chef Stefano Faita. A star in his hometown of Montreal, Stefano is the restaurateur behind the city’s Italian hot spots Impasto and Pizzeria Gema, and the old-school snack bar Chez Tousignant. He’s also one of Pusateri’s most talented collaborators. That night at dinner, we began to brainstorm our plan for a full menu for Italian holiday dinner, now available exclusively to our customers at Pusateri’s. Stefano also has a line of imported Italian panettone that I love, and he’s curated a limited-edition wooden gift box for Pusateri’s that includes, among other things, his delicious sauces as well as artisanal pasta with packaging designed by Dolce and Gabbana—a truly Italian culinary experience. I caught up with Stefano again a few weeks ago to talk more about our Italian spin on the holidays.
IDA: I’d love to kick things off by talking about our partnership.
STEFANO: I was honoured that Pusateri’s supports my line of tomato sauces, and that we’ve partnered on providing great Italian catering options and ready-made meals, whether it’s for the holidays or for everyday family dinners. We obviously share our Italian heritage, and the more I talk to you, the more I realize, “Wow, my family’s a lot like yours.” Back in Montreal, we have our family business, called Dante’s, which has been around since 1956. Yours is a grocery store, ours is a kitchen shop, but there is so much we have in common.
IDA: At the core, our worlds are built on the same foundation.
STEFANO: For Italians, food, friends and family are our way of life. The idea of serving great food to bring together the people you love is part of everything we do. It’s part of the chef experience we’ve created for Pusateri’s: ready-to-cook family meals with an Italian flair like osso bucco, chicken cacciatore and, of course, our extensive holiday menu of about a dozen dishes, including Tuscan bean soup, roasted turkey with all the trimmings and a fresh frutti di bosco tart. That’s also about making the holidays easier to pull off.
IDA: I’m dying to hear what your holiday feast involves.
STEFANO: Christmas Eve is a traditional fish dinner at my uncle’s house. We enjoy octopus salad, salted cod, smoked salmon, mussels and shrimp cocktail, along with pasta aglio e olio—pasta with garlic, olive oil, anchovies and a touch of tomato. On Christmas Day, we start with lunch at my girlfriend’s family’s house, where I get another, different taste of Italy. Her family comes from Agnone in the Molise region. The meal is an Italian and French Canadian hybrid. We’ll have zuppa agnonese, made of chicken liver and aged cheese bathed in homemade chicken stock, and we’ll tuck into tourtière with a side of sweet ketchup. After lunch, we end up at my mom’s.
IDA: What are your mom’s standout dishes?
STEFANO: She makes a lasagna that melts in your mouth. It’s nine layers of hand-cranked pasta with tomato sauce, crumbled hard-boiled eggs and mini meatballs. On Christmas, she also serves stuffed turkey roll, creamed rabbit with pancetta and brandy, and we finish everything off with a plate of fresh fennel, clementines and chestnuts.
IDA: Do you have any tips for pre-holiday prep?
STEFANO: My mom taught me to prep as much as four weeks ahead of time. She makes three lasagnas and freezes them. I’ll make my stuffed turkey roll sous-vide, dress it and refrigerate it. I’ve spent too many Christmases seeing my family completely occupied by making dishes. With everything done in advance, you have more time to have a glass of wine.
IDA: I know you also serve panettone as part of your holiday meal, with a side of mascarpone cream.
STEFANO: It’s really just the perfect treat, whether it’s for brunch in the morning or for dessert with the family. It’s light and fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. The best part goes without saying: you don’t have to be Italian to bring panettone into your holiday traditions.
IDA: One final, nosy question. What must you absolutely have in your pantry?
STEFANO: I have breadcrumbs, the unseasoned kind. I have anchovies—adding them automatically enhances the flavour of practically any dish. I’m not going to eat anchovies out of the jar any time soon, but they’re a game-changer when I’m cooking. But more than anything, there are three quality items everyone needs: very good olive oil, very good sea salt and very good tomato sauce. Preferably mine!