Italians Love Veal So Much They Named Their Country After It!

It's no secret that I have a soft spot for veal sandwiches. I've written about it in this spot in the past.  So, to say that I enjoyed a recent conversation about the relevance of veal to Italy's culture, with Professor Michael Lettieri, who has taught every level of the Italian language program at the University of Toronto, would be a bit of an understatement. 

You can learn more about Professor Lettieri's amazing academic accomplishments by clicking here. For the purposes of this humble blog posting, all you need to know is that I am lucky enough to say that he is part of the family (married to a cousin).  So it is that we had the opportunity to catch-up at a recent family wedding and it was a true pleasure to soak up every anecdote and bit of information, about various aspects of Italian culture, that he was willing to dispense with. Not the least of which was how Italy got its name.

It's a little known fact that Italy is, in fact, named after veal!  The origin goes back to ancient times before the Roman Empire. The name Italy (Italia) is an ancient name for the country and people of southern Italy, coincidentally where my family originates from (Calabria). Originally, it was spelled Vitalia, probably from the same root as the Latin vitulus (a one-year-old calf), thus literally meaning 'calf-land' or "Land of Cattle".  According to various academic texts, the area was rich with bovine, and as such, the people took the name as it identified them with their land. Eventually, the "V" was dropped, and it became just "Italia".

So, their you have it! It's only fitting that a country and culture that is so influenced by it's cuisine, would have a name that is also.

On Bakeries, Delis, and Butchers...

An interesting anecdote from a recent encounter: I was visiting one of my favourite local Italian bakeries and I came across a couple making some inquiries to the staff about catering options, which the establishment’s signage prominently indicates that they offer.  More specifically, the couple was asking if there was a catering menu that they could order from.  As I watched, much to my dismay, the couple was rudely told that they should just order from the hot table menu displayed on the wall, which was followed by head-shaking by the staff person. The nerve of them to ask for a catering men (insert sarcasm)! As I watched this, I realized that I was witnessing what makes Cucina Mauro Catering different from the other options for authentic home-style Italian food:  our combination of professionalism and customer service in addition to the quality of our food.

I have long believed that some of the best Italian food available (for sale, that is – nobody can beat nonna’s), is from local Italian bakeries, cheese shops, and butchers.  Many Italian bakeries are just as famous for their “hot tables” as they are for their bread; and where better to get a classic salumi or cheese platter than an Italian cheese and deli shop? Similarly, some of the best porchetta I’ve had (other than my own, of course) has been from Italian butcher shops that not only sell the pork, but also roast it!  Not only do these places provide authentic Italian food, but they have the added charm and character that often comes along with these types of establishments.

Unfortunately, what these establishments are often lacking is a dedicated and professional focus on catering services.  Now, don’t get me wrong, that is not intended as a criticisim. Bakeries, delis, and butchers may have great catered food, but at the end of the day, they are still bakeries, delis, and butchers; they are not caterers.

At Cucina Mauro Catering, our philosophy is simple: provide the same authenticity Italian food that you would get from genuine Italian establishments, but with focused and dedicated professional catering services and customer attention.  That means providing personalized attention and customer service, offering delivery services, providing full-on site service if needed, coordinating event services like décor and equipment rentals, and most importantly treating you like you are a member of our family, from start to finish.

We look forward to serving you.

No Risotto. No Carbonora.

A quick browse of this web site makes it quite obvious that at Cucina Mauro Catering, authenticity is one of our most important guiding principles.  So, you might be a bit surprised that our menu does not include some of the most classic Italian dishes, like risotto or pasta alla carbonara.  How can we profess to be authentically Italian without offering such classic options?  Ironically, it is exactly because we believe in being authentic that we will not offer such dishes.  Allow me to explain.

As a catering operation, we are often called upon to feed dozens, if not hundreds of people.  Sometimes we are asked to simply prepare the food and have it delivered ready for serving, and sometimes we are asked to provide full on-site service.  Either way, there is significant prep work that occurs in our kitchen. Even though we use industry standard methods for transporting food at the proper temperature, there are simply some dishes that cannot be properly prepared and served under these conditions.  Risotto and Pasta alla Carbonara are two perfect examples of this. 

To prepare a risotto properly, one key ingredient is necessary: time. It must be slowly cooked and nursed along to develop the beautiful creamy texture that it is known for. Conversely, once ready, it cannot be allowed to linger before being served; it must be enjoyed immediately, otherwise it loses its characteristic creaminess.  It cannot be effectively transported for delivery, and batching it up for large groups is similarly challenging.  Given both of these constraints, we choose to not offer risotto as part of our catering menu, because we believe that if we cannot prepare it and serve it properly, then we should not serve it at all. 

The same holds true for Pasta alla Carbonara.  This is such a simple classic dish, but it is so often done incorrectly.  The creamy texture of the sauce should be solely from the eggs added to the hot freshly cooked pasta.  There should never be any cream added. So, like risotto, to truly enjoy the carbonara sauce, it must be prepared and eaten immediately.  It simply cannot withstand the time it would take to go from our kitchen to your table. The addition of cream to the sauce could help solve this problem and could be why some establishments add it, but, as mentioned, authentic carbonara never includes cream and we refuse to compromise on that. 

So, if you are looking for risotto or carbonara, I apologize, but you will not find it on our menu. That said, I'd love to prepare it for you personally, the way it was meant to be. If that's of interest to you, don't hesitate to contact us to inquire about our personal chef in-home service for your next dinner party. 

 

What's In a Name?

As Juliett, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliett, so eloquently put it, “what’s in a name?”.  I’m not ashamed to admit that, when it comes to the name “Cucina Mauro”, the answer is: not much.

“Cucina Mauro” translated literally means “Mauro’s Cooking” or “Mauro’s Cuisine”. In so much as I am the name sake of Cucina Mauro, it is accurate; but, quite frankly, there are many more people behind Cucina Mauro, than just me.

For starters, just about every dish on our menu is my mother’s recipe and cooked the way she taught us. So, in some ways, a more accurate name might be “Cucina Francesca”.

The family involvement doesn’t end there. Firstly, my wife deserves sainthood for tolerating the long hours that the job often demands of my time; but beyond that, she is often the face of Cucina Mauro, when we are on-site, managing the “front of house”, while I manage the kitchen.  You will not find a more professional, polite, and customer service oriented person than her.

Then there is the rest of the family. I am one of four children in the Ritacca famiglia, and believe me when I tell you that the other three have poured much of themselves into this; everything from business advice to working in the kitchen, and on-site at events.  If that’s not enough, their children (my nieces) are a part of the Cucina Mauro team, too!

Last but, certainly not least, is staff.  While I am proud of the family-oriented roots and pedigree of Cucina Mauro, and will always make a point of ensuring genuine family involvement (no matter how large we grow), we couldn’t do what we do without staff; everyone from  the part-time staff that get called in for larger events, to the crew of servers, bartenders, and hosts from the event staffing agency that we are partnered with.  We are proud to work with a team of individuals dedicated to authenticity, quality, and customer service.

So, yes, it’s my name on the web site and business cards, but this is far from a one-person operation.  A very big thank-you to everyone who has helped to make Cucina Mauro Catering what it has become!

 

 

The Best Part of Catering

Cucina Mauro Catering was founded on the principles of authenticity and the family and friendship bonds that real food  both nurtures and exemplifies.   That's why our logo is one of Nonna Ritacca's actual handwritten recipes. It is intended to represent our authenticity and our emphasis on family.  With these as our core principles, it's no wonder that our favourite part of the catering business is the relationships that we build with our clients.

There are few other businesses that bring you as close to someone's personal life as catering.   The array of events, celebrations, and gatherings that we become part of are endless.  We truly try to treat our clients as part of the family and they quickly begin to feel more like friends than customers. More importantly, we are proud that many of our clients feel the same way about us. 

A nice, related, story: one of our best clients lives overseas. She has friends that live in Toronto and she loves to treat them to catering when they are celebrating an event, which is where Cucina Mauro comes in.  Over time, we have truly become friends with this client as she has appreciated the friendly service that we have provided.  So much so that she called on us asking if we could help with a special gesture that she wanted to do for her Toronto friends when they were participating in a charity fundraiser walk for a cause close to their hearts. She wanted to get them all custom made team caps to wear during their walk, but living overseas she wasn't able to find someone that could do it on short notice. So she gave us a call to see if we could help.  We put her in touch with a contact and he got the job done right on time.  The point of this story is not to praise ourselves for helping with this (all we did was make a phone call); the point is that we are proud of the fact that this client thought to call us to ask for help, for something completely unrelated to catering. That's when we knew we had made a friend, not a client. 

I Am Not a Chef

I want to be clear about something: I am NOT a chef; and, quite frankly, I don't want to be one. 

Don't get me wrong, I have immense respect for chefs. I think of them as artists using food as their canvas.  I love watching them perform their craft. And, I'm not ashamed to admit, that I wholeheartedly consider myself a celebrity chef groupie. 

But, I am not a chef. I have never attended culinary school, and I have never worked in a restaurant. I am just a guy who has always loved to cook and loved to feed others.

I didn't learn to cook in a classroom or from a book. I learned to cook by watching my mother, and through years of family gatherings making tomato sauce, sausages, and countless other Italian staples. I learned about the difference that fresh quality ingredients make by tasting the difference between home-grown vegetables, which came from a backyard garden 20 feet from our family kitchen, and vegetables bought at a grocery store after travelling hundreds of miles in the back of a truck.

Does that make me less qualified than a professionally trained chef? Personally, I don't think so; but decide for yourself. Place an order and see what you think. It would be a pleasure to serve you. 

 

Loving What We Do

As the old saying goes, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.  It's a wise person who came up with that one. That said, let's be honest; even if you love your job, everyone needs a break.

This came to mind this morning, after a very busy Saturday in the kitchen, yesterday. We filled our orders and the clients were happy, but it was a pretty exhausting day. Nevertheless, as I enjoy a rare Sunday off and spending time with my family, the conversation drifts towards "what's for dinner?" and, given the kitchen-induced exhaustion that I felt barely 12 hours ago, you'd think the kitchen is the last place I want to head to. Surprisingly, though, I'm looking forward to prepping and cooking dinner for the family (gnocchi with tomato-basil sauce are on the menu), later this afternoon.

In any job, it's usually pretty obvious when someone performs it with care and passion. At Cucina Mauro, we truly are passionate about our work, and we hope that it comes through in our dedication, service, and quality

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I have to confess, I’m not much of a winter person. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favourite things of living in Ontario is that we enjoy all four seasons, including winter; but given the choice, I’ll take autumn colours, spring flowers, or summer bbq.  That said, there is one thing that winter has that the others don’t: curing season.

Every year, for as long as I can remember, January and February were synonymous with all types of “salumi”: salsicia, sopresata, capocolo, pancetta, and prosciutto.   That is the time of the year when temperatures allow for the family cantina to be at the perfect temperature for curing. It also happens to be the time of year when, either by coincidence or competition, the cost of the required pork meat is most affordable.  When all was said and done, about 250 lbs of various cuts of pork would be hanging in the cantina, meticulously organized and monitored, for months.

Like all Italian cuisine, every region of Italy has its own distinct tastes and specialties when it comes to salumi.  The defining ingredient for our family’s sausge recipe has always been fennel seed, or “Finnochio” in Italian.  The subtle anise flavour of fennel will always mean sausage to me.

One of my favourite traditions of making sausages is testing the meat to check if enough, or too much, salt has been added. Like every other part of this process, it’s done the same way it has been done for decades, if not centuries: by taste. After the salt has been mixed into the meat, all production halts so that we can fry a bit of the meat and then pass it around to let everyone sample some; chew it slowly and carefully, paying close attention to the salt flavour.   Once it gets the stamp of approval, production continues.

Our family has finished for this year. The cantina is full with pancetta, salsicia, sopresata, and capocolo (no prosciutto this year), all slowly curing.  Now, the hard part: we wait.

 

Buon Anno! We're back!

It's been a while since we posted an update and there's a good reason for that: we were so busy filling catering orders over the holidays that we literally were burning the midnight oil, so, unfortunately, there just wasn't much time left for this.

Now that the holiday season is over, we are still busy, but we have a bit more time to engage and update everyone again.  It's our goal to make Cucina Mauro about more than just food.  For us, it is about passing on traditions and continuing legacies, and this humble blog and our social media accounts allow us to engage in ways that contribute in achieving those goals.   So, we are looking forward to filling these pages up, in 2017, with stories about our past, present, and future; and with reflections on the importance of food in feeding our souls and bringing us together; on family, friends, and so much more. 

We wish you and your loved ones all the best in 2017!  Buon Anno!

The Veal Sandwich Tradition Lives On

If you’ve read our blog in the past, you know that at Cucina Mauro, we believe that food is so much more than just sustenance. Food brings us together, it stirs up emotions, and it creates memories. For us, nothing exemplifies that more than the classic veal sandwich, which is why we are so proud to have been nominated for Ontario’s best veal sandwich (www.ontariovealappeal.com, #bestvealsandwich).

Some of our earliest memories are of going for take-out veal sandwiches with our father, in Toronto.  It was always a treat! The delicious aroma and taste had our young mouths watering before the counter staff even handed over the goods.

Today, however, we treasure the memory of those veal sandwiches even more. Not only because they were delicious, but because we were being indoctrinated into a tradition, even though we didn’t know it then.  Before we were even around, our father would treat himself to veal sandwiches at some of the earliest shops around town after emigrating to Toronto from Calabria, Italy, when few people other than Italian immigrants were enjoying these beautiful creations. Once we were on the scene, the tradition continued, and we are proud to say that we are now passing on that same tradition to our own children.

That’s why we are honoured to be part of the tradition of veal sandwiches and why we are proud to have been nominated for Ontario’s best veal sandwich.  If you’ve tried our sandwich and you agree with us that it deserves the title of Ontario’s best veal sandwich, then we would be honoured to have your vote.  You can vote for us by clicking here  or by using the hashtag #bestvealsandwich and tagging @CucinaMauro on twitter or @cucina_mauro on Instagram.  THANKS!