Our next Chef of the Week is responsible for all the food development and execution for a prominent restaurant group.
Allow us to introduce you to Elio Zannoni.
As the Executive Chef of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group, it’s likely you’ve tried one of Zannoni’s creations – he’s at the helm of Gusto 101, Trattoria Nervosa, and the highly anticipated, soon-to-open restaurants Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen and Gusto 501. While he’s been in his current position for nearly 2-years, he’s more than well versed with over 15 years of experience in the industry.
Like many great Toronto-based chefs, he took the culinary arts program at George Brown before professionally training at Avalon and Cava under Chef Chris McDonald. During Cava’s opening year, Zannoni worked as the Sous Chef with Doug Penfold, helping it to earn a number one vote for the best restaurant in Toronto. Later, he joined the Gusto 54 family as Chef de Cuisine at Trattoria Nervosa, perfecting the art of Italian cooking. His passion took him to Naples, Italy, where he completed the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, making him a certified pizzaiolo.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Chef Elio Zannoni about his earliest influences, the three restaurants you must visit before you die (including a Toronto spot!), and the one cause that’s sure to change the way restaurants are built.
How did you get your start in the industry?
After recognizing that I could channel my love for food into a career I enrolled to George Brown College and moved to Toronto. I started working around the city in small French bistros, but my earliest influences were my mother and my aunts, who made the best Italian family meals.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I would describe my culinary style as Italian. Not classic or modern, just Italian. Maintaining the focus on the ingredients, not blurring them. My goal is to achieve a clean flavour profile, respecting the ingredients in every step.
What’s your favourite dish on your current menu and why?
My favourite dish is the Arrosto di Maiale: crispy pork belly, romano beans, fennel, rapini purée, Castelvetrano olives. There is nothing I enjoy more than a perfectly cooked bean – it truly brightens my day.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
The biggest misconception about the industry is how hard you have to work to be successful. This industry is very difficult. You have to devote most, if not all, of your time to perfecting your craft. It doesn’t happen over night. Every day you need to be better than the day before.
What’s your go-to meal to cook at home?
Pasta alla Gricia (Rigatoni, guanciale, Pecorino Romano)
What are three restaurants our readers need to try before they die?
1. Cal Pep (Barcelona)
2. Prince St. Pizza (NYC)
3. Edulis (Toronto)
What’s one tip our readers should know to up their own game in their kitchens?
Start with cooking things that you love – cooking is supposed to be enjoyable. Also, get yourself a proper knife and learn how to keep it sharp. A proper knife will change the way you attack projects in your home kitchen.
If there was one thing in the restaurant industry you could change, what would it be?
I would change the amount of stress this industry puts on our carbon footprint. We’ve come a long way with waste programs but we still have quite a ways to go.
How do you think Toronto (and/or Canada’s) culinary scene will evolve in the future?
The farm-to-table mentality is growing every year with more chefs really taking action to support local. In the near future, I think dedication to this cause will only move further into the forefront and become a determining factor as to how restaurants plan menus and even build restaurants.
To keep up with Chef Elio Zannoni, follow him on Instagram at @chef_elz.
Are there any other chefs you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.