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!

Good Food is Always Better with Good Company

What is the purpose of food? The obvious answer is that it keeps us alive; but it does so much more than that!  It brings us together. It gives us a reason to gather. Indeed, good food is always better with good company!

Such was the case, recently, when we had the pleasure of hosting one of Canada's pre-eminent food bloggers and the brains behind simplybeautifuleating.com. We had such a great time, and we never would have met had it not been for a mutual passion for food. 

Click here to read all about the evening, and see some beautiful photos taken during our dinner together.  If you read right to the end, you'll even be rewarded with a bonus prize: our veal/chicken parmigiana recipe!

Make it an Italian Thanksgiving!

At Cucina Mauro Catering, we are very proud of our Italian heritage, and the customs that our past generations brought with them when they immigrated to this great country; but we are equally proud of the way they integrated themselves into Canadian culture. At this time of year, we are reminded of one of our favourite examples of this: Thanksgiving.

Although Thanksgiving is not a holiday that is typically celebrated in Italy, it is something that has been embraced by Italian-Canadian immigrants.  When we were growing up, Thanksgiving was the only day of the year that turkey was served. There would always be a huge one cooking in the oven all afternoon.

Nevertheless, an Italian-Canadian Thanksgiving is still quite unique.  Turkey would always be precipitated by a pasta course, and sometimes even an antipasto. And turkey was rarely the only “secondi” served.  Inevitably, there would be some other kind of meat, like veal cutlets or home-made sausages, served along-side.

Likely, the same story could probably be told by Canadian immigrants from numerous other backgrounds; many of them, most likely, combining a uniquely Canadian tradition with the customs of their homeland.  And, quite frankly, what better way is there to express gratitude for this great Canadian mosaic?

So, in that spirit, make this Thanksgiving a little different. Make it an Italian-Canadian Thanksgiving!  Add a tray of lasagna or cannelloni; serve one of our signature porchetta roasts; add a tray of eggplant parmigiana to your sides; or finish your meal off with one of our delicious Tiramisu cakes.

Let us help make this Thanksgiving easier, and memorable!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Free Samples at the Queen West Night Market

Food is more than just sustenance; it is art.  Visually, it can capture our emotions as much as a painting, photograph, or sculpture.  More importantly, however, is that if it is done right, it is prepared with the same attention to detail and emotional commitment as an artist working in any other medium.  

That is how we approach our food at Cucina Mauro, and its why we are excited to be at Nuvango (639 Queen Street West, Toronto) on August 18 from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. to participate in the Queen West Night Market.  You can find me set up in Nuvango's second floor gallery surrounded by their current exhibition, FSTVL SZN, which showcases the talent of Toronto photographer, THESUPERMANIAK.

Nuvango is an inspiring fashion and lifestyle brand that combines fashion with artists. You can learn more about Nuvango here.   We will be set up in this unique space giving away FREE samples of our Infornate Olives as part of the Queen West Night Market, which is combining some great foods with some of Toronto's greatest retailers.

You won't want to miss this. Good food and good shopping!  Come see us!