– Story by Gail Johnson Photography by Lia Crowe
Restaurants come and go, and then there are those that, like a fine wine, only get better with age. Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro opened Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill and Enoteca in Yaletown in 1999, and it’s been on every “best” list ever since, including the best Italian restaurants outside of 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 celebrations, Pino cooked for the Italian President atop Grouse Mountain.
In response to the pandemic, the legendary chef rode with the restrictions; he started doing take-out, posting family-style menus on social media in the mornings, and regularly selling out at 4 p.m. Other chefs call him the master. All this from a father of four from humble beginnings who almost didn’t pursue cooking at all. His success is due to his passion.
“I cook every day,” says Pino. “I love it. When I’m not cooking at the restaurant, I’m cooking at home. It’s in my veins.
He adds, “Being a successful restaurateur and chef doesn’t mean being on TV every day. It’s about 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 Italy’s Calabria region, in a family of eight. His 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.
Although their family was not wealthy, Pino says, they ate extremely well.
“My mother knew how to turn the simplest ingredients into a masterpiece,” he says. “She took simple objects and made 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 pig slaughter, always on a Friday. His mother used the blood to make pudding with chocolate and pine nuts. They would clean the pig in the river and then stuff it with chillies that the family had dried a year before. Together they would slice the meat by hand, using different cuts for various 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 in 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 means of bringing happiness to people, food is a means of sharing one’s culture. For this, Pino was named Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy, an award given by the Italian President. The knighthood recognizes people who promote Italian prestige and international relations. Pino received the accolade in 2018, the first chef in Canada to do so.
“I never thought I would receive this award for doing what I do every day,” says Pino. “At the end of the day, we are cooks, but if we promote Italian technique and traditions in Canada, it is an accomplishment. For more than 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 particular 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, Vancouver Island buffalo mozzarella, Fraser Valley veal, and fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms. It also imports specialty products ethically produced by small artisans from Italy, such as saffron from Calabria, Sardinia and Abruzzo.
He will not use foods containing preservatives or genetically modified ingredients. He makes all his own salami and other types of charcuterie, like air-dried organic bresaola, from scratch. Pino sources organic pork from Salt Spring Island and Chilliwack, butchering it by hand, never by machine. It has seasoning down to an exact science. Making fresh pasta is his specialty if he’s 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 wine list for Cioppino’s, which has a collection of around 45,000 bottles, including many rare and hard-to-find vintages. Part of the restaurant’s recent overhaul, which saw the fall of a dividing wall making the whole room feel more open and airy, was the addition of a spectacular central bar with a 50 glass wine dispenser temperature controlled bottles 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, complete 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 from safe physical distances, Pino is at home in the kitchen. Italian Heritage Month in June is important to him: “It means reinforcing a strong bond with the mother country and bringing it to the attention of a wider audience,” he says.
It all comes down to its singular mission.
“You do it because it’s a passion,” he says, “a passion for food and cooking and for people.”
Story reprinted with kind permission from Boulevard Magazine, a publication of Black Press Media
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