It’s hard to disagree with a chef who runs one of the city’s most notable fine-dining establishments. “There is no Italian or French or Chinese cuisine, just good food and bad food,” according to Pino Posteraro.
For over 15 years, Posteraro has been showing Vancouverites which type he cooks.
The renowned chef at Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca (1133 Hamilton Street) was born and raised in Lago, Italy. Growing up on a farm, he learned to cook from his mother, and he started creating farm-to-table dishes in Vancouver long before the philosophy gained popularity at local restaurants. Doing this is simply a way of remaining true to his roots.
“I have a very good memory of growing up. I can still smell the seasons changing and taste the flavours that come with those seasons,” Posteraro said during an interview with the Straight at Cioppino’s.
“When you see what suppliers have to offer you, and you can go back to those memories of traditional cooking that I have, it’s easy to evolve those recipes to suit Vancouver in 2015.”
Ingredients, Posteraro stressed, are more important than techniques, trends, or ideas.
“Italian food is all about respect for the ingredients. It’s important to be a good technician, and I’m very privileged to have worked with some incredible chefs that have shown me how to master the techniques. But the right ingredients will speak for themselves with little intervention,” he said. “Today I received a beautiful shipment of heirloom tomatoes. You wouldn’t want to overwhelm them with an orgy of flavours.”
Posteraro admitted that his engagement with his staff once involved hand gestures and bellowing across the kitchen. But he said he’s traded the stereotypical fiery Italian demeanour for a more restrained one. Still, he believes an executive chef needs to provide clear leadership to the team.
“I used to tell my guys to think about cooking like hockey. What would a coach do if you didn’t perform? They always understood after that.”
The hockey analogy also extends to the work ethic of his kitchen staff.
“The way Canadian kids grow up with hockey, with moms and dads religiously sacrificing their mornings—this is the way that all the people that have trained with me have shown their commitment and dedication, and it’s why they go on to succeed.”
A number of Posteraro’s former sous-chefs have moved on from his kitchen to run their own successful restaurants. But he doesn’t take the credit. “Yes, I am there to train and to coach and to mentor,” he explained, “but in the end, they are very serious about succeeding.”
Cioppino’s is known as much for its menu of rich Italian dishes and topnotch service as it is for its wine list, which spans upwards of 120 pages. More than 45,000 bottles and 3,600 labels are available to guests, with many varieties lining the walls of the restaurant.
“If we want to provide our guests with the perfect experience, we need to provide not only the best of the food but the best of the wine,” Posteraro said. “It’s a very important part of Italian culture.”
So is dining regularly with family. When cooking at home, Posteraro also chooses the best ingredients, and he keeps things simple but delicious.
He said of the dish below, “I like to make this dish for my family every Sunday. It takes less than an hour, and I only make one dish dirty.”
Perfect to prepare on a chilly fall evening, this hearty meal is full of flavour. The red-wine vinegar gives it a hint of sweetness, and the dish’s slow cooking method leaves the chicken and vegetables tender.
Pino Posteraro’s easy roasted chicken
2.2 lb (1 kg) boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs
3 pods okra
6 large yellow potatoes, peeled
4 Tbsp (60 mL) red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 ½ Tbsp (20 mL) sea salt
2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 475 ° F (240 ° C).
- On a clean cutting board, dice potatoes and thinly slice shallots. Cut okra crosswise. Set aside.
- Place chicken thighs in a roasting pan and drizzle with vinegar and olive oil. Add potatoes, shallots, and okra.
- Sprinkle oregano, garlic, and salt on everything. Pour in chicken stock.
- Bake 45 to 60 minutes, flipping the chicken and vegetables halfway to ensure even cooking. Serve family-style or divide between 4 plates.
Yield: 4 servings. Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.