I AM NOT A FOODIE: Cooking With Chef Pino, the Chef on Two Wheels

A shot of the van Chef Pino drives to carry all the goods for his services!
He’s had to upgrade to four wheels since his start all those years ago, but everything else remains much the same!

Today we take a short break from the November to Remember series to talk about an amazing experience I had last night, which involved one of the few things that’ve paralyzed me in my tracks for years —

cooking.

Back when my Dad used to run a restaurant, he would give me my first set of jobs ever. While I was really good at customer service and bookkeeping, there was one thing I really sucked at — and that was anything having to do with the kitchen.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never do prep work fast enough. Or cook anything right. The only thing I was good at in the kitchen was messing up. So after I got through that horrendous experience, I never got anywhere near cooking again!

So imagine my surprise when Buytopia.ca offered me the chance to get a 2-hour cooking class, where Chef Pino Padula would teach me how to make a 5-course meal, presumably without burning down the house!

Who is Chef Pino?

A shot of Chef Pino from his website.
Chef Pino at work. Source: http://thechefon2wheels.com/main/

Born and raised in Bari, Italy, Chef Pino got an early start in the restaurant biz when his father would pay him 10¢ a day to do dishes. Many days (and many more dishes) later, he would save up enough to buy his first bicycle. Continuing to work in restaurants as he went through his teenage years, more responsibility meant more money, the bicycle became a motorcycle and the legend of The Chef on 2 Wheels was born!

Chef Pino is an extremely personable gentleman who strives to get to know his clients and treats everyone with the same amount of respect. You get the same Chef Pino whether you spent your last dime hiring his services or you’re working on making your next million. He’s polite, he’s classy and he’s secure enough in knowing what he’s doing that he has no problem sharing his recipes and methods with you!

And for a couple of hours, he was bringing decades of experience (from such celebrated places as Toulà and catering for celebrities at both Toronto Fashion Week and the Toronto International Film Festival) to my home so he could teach me a thing or two… hundred.

The 5-course menu was lavish and offered tastes of things I normally wouldn’t have without finding a nice Italian restaurant to visit. The menu included:

Meat Menu

Appetizers: Thinly Slices Beef Carpaccio with Lemon Oil Dressing & Parmigiano Shavings

Pasta: Penne Alla Vodka

Intermezzo: Scroppino with Chaffonade Mint & Pink Peppercorn

Main Course: Encrusted Stuffed Pork Tenderloin  with swiss Cheese & Caramelized Onions

Dessert: Classic TAJAN Vanilla Ice cream in Affogato

Source: http://www.buytopia.ca/deal/2230/?skip=true&a_aid=casepam

Here’s a look at some of the prep work and outcomes of the food I got to try — everything was delicious!!!

What I Learned from Chef Pino Padula

You can’t help but learn from Chef Pino. There were little tips and tricks I’d pick up as he worked — like not putting the sauce in the skillet until the onions are translucent, or that hard cheeses go with pork and soft ones with chicken — but here’s 3 key lessons I’ll take with me when I try to make meals of my own!

1. You Can’t Make Good Food from Ingredients Gone Bad!

Chef Pino would emphasize multiple times that the thing giving his food so much flavour was its freshness. He buys everything as close to the prep date as possible, only holding on to ingredients for short periods of time before they’re no longer good — and his attention to detail definitely pays off!

2. You Get What You Pay For

You might think that a sauce is a sauce is a sauce, but Chef Pino would tell you how wrong you are. He showed us that cheaper sauces include seeds and skins, making them bitterer the longer you cook them, while premium sauces had neither, making them sweeter the longer they simmer. And he had tips for every ingredient.

3. Eat the Food the Way You’re Meant To Eat It

When I went to another course without cleansing my palate first, Chef Pino pointed out that I wouldn’t be getting the true flavour of the food. After following his advice and taking a mouthful of sgroppino, I could note flavours that I never would have tasted otherwise! So here it’s important to:

  • use a palate cleanser
  • eat the food fresh off of the stove
  • eat enough to appreciate the food but not so much that you regret it — your state of mind is part of the dining experience

Years later, my Dad would tell me that there was a lesson he wanted to teach me those days I spent in his kitchen staff:

“I want you to learn about the things you hate to do so you’ll go out and do amazingly at the things you love.”

While he may have been right that cooking wouldn’t be my secret to success, I don’t think he intended to turn me off from cooking forever.

Before Chef Pino came along, the kitchen would be the last place you’d ever find me. I’d take any chore over cooking if ever given the choice.

It only took two hours for Chef Pino to give my confidence back, and in the end that’s better value than I would’ve gotten from any cooking show.

Have We Tempted You?

If you want to try this experience  yourself, Buytopia has a deal for Chef Pino’s services! Instead of the $320 you’d normally shell out for the service I just described, you can score it for $99!!! Vouchers are good until December 16, 2013; he also offers fish and vegetarian menus; and can come to any house in the GTA. These make awesome Christmas, anniversary or birthday gifts for the people who already have everything and are impossible to shop for. (To be honest, I got a couple of vouchers, myself!)

You can check the deal out here: http://www.buytopia.ca/deal/2230/?skip=true&a_aid=casepam

And if that’s not enough incentive, I had some good chats with Chef Pino himself, and he’s informed me that this just might be the last round of discounts before it goes back up to full price forever! The deal’s only on until midnight Sunday, December 16, so if you want it, you’d better get it while it’s hot!

Thanks for reading, and if you do get the chance to try what Chef Pino has to offer, let me know how it goes!

–case p.

Next Up: Back to A November to Remember, Caribbean Edition!

[Disclosure: I wrote this post as a member of the Buytopia.ca Inner Circle, where we try goods and services before blogging about them and earn affiliate percentages for successful sales. But I’m honest and will never write a dishonest review for the sake of money — without integrity, we have nothing.]

WHAT YOU MISSED: Struttin’ and Stuntin’ at CanyonOnFront

CanyonOnFront-1-of-1
Justin always keeps it boss. Always.

“Last night was mad real.”

–Kanye West, “No Church in the Wild”, Watch the Throne, 2011

Anyone who wants to tell me that Toronto’s a boring city obviously isn’t looking hard enough.

There was once a time where I’d spend a lot of time home at a loss for things to do (read: when I lived in Mississauga), but Twitter broke those floodgates wide open, bringing a ridiculous number of opportunities to — as OutKast would put it — “Git up, git out and git somethin'” out of Toronto.

And Wednesday, October 17 was a perfect example of this.

Meats, Greets and Shufflin’ Feet: CanyonOnFront

To paraphrase Justin Baisden, CanyonOnFront was what a tweetup is supposed to be like.

I felt the love as soon as I got there, with Tiff (one of my favourite Tweeps) holding it down at the front entrance, making sure we were covered for free beers and appetizers, and Kate (one of my favourite Tweeps I’ve met lately) ushering us to the back of the room, I was expecting the event to be dope, and it did not disappoint.

The back of the room was totally where it was at. With a gathering of a good number of my favourite people I’ve ever met on Twitter, some of the sickest beats ever laid by Kayson Stone (seriously — the man could not play a lame song once, it was ridiculous!!!) and the delicious steak that Canyon Creek always has to offer, what more could you ask for?

Turns out we didn’t have to ask; they had a lot more to give! Take a look at this list of things we got for the glorious price of free:

  • Two Steamwhistle beers
  • Seeing tons of awesome Tweeps all in the same place
  • Kayson Stone keeping the dance floor vibin’ with just about every song on my Top 500 Most Played iTunes playlist
  • CFL and NHL celebs mingling with us common folk and having a great time
  • Being thanked for our patronage with a hand-written card, $20 Canyon Creek gift card and voucher for a free Steamwhistle Brewery tour

A Top-Class Tweetup

What made this Tweetup stand out from so many others that I’ve been to these past few years was the attention to every little detail that defined the guests’ experience. Giving them discount and freebies they could actually use — and immediately. Creating an amazing atmosphere where you could meet new people and have tons of fun with some you already knew. Making guests feel appreciated with hand-written “thank you” cards on the way out. All this and not having to pay a dime unless you wanted to just blows my mind!

Justin said that CanyonOnFront easily ranks in his Top 5 tweetups of all time, and I’d find it really hard to disagree with him on this one.

Big ups to Tiff and Kate who obviously know a thing or two about throwing one bad-ass party!

Two very different events. One very awesome night. The next time you want to say that your city is boring, you might want to take a look around — there’s a lot of people doing a lot of amazing things.

And who wouldn’t want to be part of the action???

Canyon Creek Chophouse on Urbanspoon

–case p.

I AM NOT A FOODIE: The WVRST Night of My Life

WVRST-1-of-7
You’ll probably need to hit WVRST multiple times — it has a LOT of options to offer!

As Lisa McPhee would tell you, the west side is the best side. While I can’t completely agree (since I rep the Danforth these days), there’s plenty of things it does right.

Like sausages made from animals that make no sense being on this end of the world!

Welcome to WVRST!

Planning for the WVRST

Trevor and I had been planning to go to WVRST for a good while now, but never seemed to get around to it. However, on a day where our schedules got flushed down the tubes due to oversleeping and being too tired to bother doing anything too nuts, getting this item off of the to-do list didn’t seem like — wait for it — the WVRST idea!

Making the Best of the WVRST

One thing to keep in mind about WVRST is that it’s not your typical restaurant. Yes reservations; no wait list — just a lineup; no specific waiter or assigned seating — just a bunch of benches where they bring your food to you after you order and pay for it at the front counter.

And maybe it’s because they keep things so simple (i.e.  a beer hall-style restaurant that serves mainly beer and sausages) that they actually manage to understand customer service!

We did get there without a reservation and had to wait in line, just like everybody else. While some people were told an hour’s wait when we were at the back of the line, it was only 15 minutes in reality. And in those 15 minutes:

One guy was a complete jerk and wouldn’t let a German tourist pass to ask the guy manning the stairs a question about the wait time, causing her and her friends to leave angrily

Ironically, the jerk and his friends would leave angrily almost immediately after, helping shorten the line by about 10 people between the two groups

Even better, almost immediately after they left, one of WVRST’s staff came out with a ton of free fries, offering them to us to apologize for the long wait! Note to all restaurants: if patrons are waiting in line to get into your establishment, they’re probably hungry. A little food can go a long way in making that wait better!

From Better to WVRST

We got in and found some seats, but damn that place is loud!

One thing I forgot about King Street West is how trendy the area is. We’re not even 30 yet, but we were easily some of the oldest people in the room! It was a very different crowd than what I’m used to having around, but everyone looked to be enjoying themselves thoroughly.

But back to the food.

I went to WVRST to try something different, so I got some elk and kangaroo sausages, washing it down with some Church-Key beer from Campbellford, ON. The beer was a bit bitter to start with, but the sausages made it a lot sweeter! Not being a foodie by any measure, I could always tell the difference between a hot dog and a premium sausage I’d get from a butcher, but I never really appreciated the difference between different kinds of game.

What I can tell you is this — while I enjoyed both, the elk was definitely more to my tastes, with a pinch more spice and other spices. Because of the free fries, we didn’t get much more than just the sausages on buns, but next time I’d love to try some currywurst and duck fat fries!

So if you’re ever in the mood for something different, I recommend WVRST. With efficient staff, tasty food and a large list of international beers, I think it’ll do well to sate most people’s appetites. Well, you know — as long as they eat meat.

Seriously, check it out. What’s the WVRST that could happen???

Wvrst on Urbanspoon

–case p.

Marben Pig Roast — Goodbye Chef Misha

Despite only really making Twitter part of my life these past 18 months, it’s not as if I had any shortage of events in a year and a half! From celebrations to coffee dates, conferences and cinema — it’s been a wild ride!

But considering all that, there’s a special group of Torontonians on Twitter that I never really broke into — the foodies. (Foodies are way better at writing about food than I am; if you want to see how this event unfolded through the eyes of a foodie, you should check out mi amiga Joie’s post on it!)

I’ve made a ton of foodie friends over time — conversation with them will invariably turn to the new place they tried, new technique/device they used in their cooking, or the new tastes they’ve been acquiring in their lives.

For someone like me who usually sticks to their stomping grounds and doesn’t often cook as to avoid poisoning himself and whoever else might fall prey to his cuisine — this was all completely foreign!

So when I heard through the tweetvine that this guy named Ken was organizing a pig roast Tweetup as a send-off to Marben’s chef, Misha Nesterenko, saying “no” didn’t even remotely sound like an option.

I’ve said that over time as you use Twitter, you come to learn who you could see as part of your life beyond 140 characters and who will forever be “just someone I know from Twitter”. Fortunately, this event was shared with plenty of people from the first category!

My name tag for the Marben Pig Roast
It’s these little added touches that can make an event stand apart. I might use the idea for future events, myself! (Thanks in advance, Ken!)

Upon arrival, Ken presented us with funky name tags and manoeuvred us around the Marben basement masterfully, finding seats for everyone without too much of a problem.

A picture of the lovely spread presented to us at the Marben Pig Roast
Left to right: Fries, Pork, Side Dishes. Everywhere: DELICIOUS.

For a mere $25, we go to gorge ourselves on:

  • delicious kale;
  • cranberry baked beans (thanks to Yvonne for reminding me!)
  • coleslaw seasoned with a Dijon mustard;
  • kim chi and apple salad;
  • fries with sides of ketchup and truffle aioli;
  • and of course — spit-roasted pig with a delicious BBQ sauce!

You’d get this all family style, so in servings meant to feed a group — so when the amazing ladies accompanying me in my group had their fill, I wasn’t left wanting for more — there was more than enough to go around!

Add the fact that Great Lakes Brewery was on tap (har dee har har) for the night to ply us with free and endless samples of several of their beers, and you had a winning combination!

The night was a testament to the good times that can come together on account of social media, and the fact that people who use social media every day of their lives can still keep the social in the equation (which was only further accented by the fact that this event marked my 1000th Foursquare check-in). While I didn’t get a chance to meet Chef Misha and wish him well, I’d like to think that the crowd that came out can be its own testament to the fact that his reputations preceded him, and preceded him well.

Thanks go out to Ken Samuel, Marben and Great Lakes Brewery for putting together such an enjoyable night!

Marben on Urbanspoon

–case p.