Making Your Mark ~ Basilio Pesce

There’s a lot of movement in the restaurant business. We’re really fortunate that our best people tend to stick around, but we lose our fair share of gems.

Making Your Mark catches up with the ones that got away.

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Bas Pesce

13 years ago, Basilio Pesce was a just another station chef at North 44. He worked his way up to sous chef at Bymark before leaving the McEwan family. Today, he’s the owner of Porzia, a new Italian spot in Parkdale he named after his mother.

What’s the best part about being in the food business? And what’s the hardest part?

The best part of being in the food industry is that you get to do more than just play with food. Feeding people is a very gratifying sensation. Being part of someone’s meal and having them enjoy what you make is the best feeling. Also, as someone who loves to eat, being in the food industry is a natural calling.

The hardest part is not being able to see my son as much I ‘d like.

How do you know when a recipe’s right?

When it tastes better than how you expected it to. Also, it’s an instinct – you know when a recipe is off.

What was the worst food review you ever got and how did you handle it?

It was posted online by a customer. People are entitled to their own opinion, and most of their complaints weren’t about the food but more about the restaurant as a whole; from the wine list to the menu format to the location of the bathrooms. If you put yourself in the public eye, you have to expect that not everyone is going to like what you do. We try to learn from all our reviews whether they’re good or bad.

Why do you think foodie culture has exploded the way it has?

People are more aware of food these days. There has been so much media coverage of of different kinds of food and the food industry has a whole. The rise in Social Media has made it very easy to expose anything that’s happening in the industry almost immediately. In Toronto, there are a lot of talented people doing great things with food – it’s hard not to get caught up in the culture.

How do you think your stint at McEwan has helped you in your career?

Working for Mark was an amazing experience. I did my co-op at North 44 and was hired right after I graduated. Working there taught me how to “work”, how to be organized, and how to never compromise on quality. It really set a good foundation for me early in my culinary career. I also got to work with a very talented bunch that taught me a lot of the skills I teach my staff today.

 

 

Risotto con Zucca e Pancetta Risotto with Sugar Pumpkin and Pancetta

The sweet, rich, creamy nature of sugar pumpkin lends itself perfectly to being showcased in risotto. And pancetta provides exactly the right salty accent. This combination works especially well as a side dish for meat or fish.

Serves 6 as an appetizer or side dish

1½ cups large-diced sugar pumpkin
1½ cups brodo
3 tbsp cold butter
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup diced pancetta
1 batch basic risotto
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp truffle paste (optional)
Ground white pepper
Fine olive oil

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Place 1 cup of the diced pumpkin in a small saucepan, add enough brodo to cover, and simmer until mushy, about 30 minutes.

Mash the pumpkin with a fork, and then stir vigorously until it becomes a smooth paste. Incorporate the cold butter, then season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a skillet on medium heat, sauté the pancetta in the oil just until it begins to brown and crisp at the edges, then remove it with a slotted spoon to a bed of paper towels to drain.

Add the remaining squash to the skillet and sauté until bronzed. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a platter.

Begin cooking the risotto. When the rice is very nearly cooked, and the supply of stock virtually exhausted, add the pancetta, sautéed pumpkin, and ¼ cup of the pumpkin purée.

Add the cheese, and stir until heated through. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and optional truffle paste. Taste, and correct seasonings with salt and white pepper. Serve lightly drizzled with fine olive oil.

Substitutions: Any sweet, firm squash, such as butternut, will serve as a good substitute for the pumpkin.

Suggested Wine: Barbera d’Asti or Cannonau di Sardegna

[From: Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica: Great Italian Recipes Made Easy for Home by Mark McEwan. Copyright © General Purpose Entertainment, 2011. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (Canada), a Division of Pearson Canada Inc.]

Darlien Scott – The Unsung Heroine

In today’s world of celebrity chefs and food porn, restaurant GMs are often overlooked. But here’s how a restaurant operates when it’s being poorly managed:

“In March of 2002, Bymark had only been open about 6 months and there had already been a complete change in the staff and management team.  Very few of the initial staff hired remained on. The joke was that if you were called into private room 3, it meant you were being fired.  Even those of us with a lot of experience were nervous on a daily basis coming into work. No one was comfortable. No one was relaxed. Everyone was scared.”

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[Right] Darlien Scott

A lot’s changed since then, and much of Bymark’s transformation has to with Darlien Scott, who started as a server and is now the GM of the Financial District’s most respected spots.

What makes Darlien such a rock-star GM is that she’s never forgotten where she came from. She’s worked in chain restaurants and supper-clubs.  She’s worked in Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler. And what she’s learned through it all is to lead by example and treat people fairly.

“It’s important to acknowledge a job well done, but it’s equally important to let someone know when they’re falling short. You have to be assertive but not aggressive; and you should never let anything go to your head no matter how much power you think you have.

 A Dee in the Life of Bymark

Darlien gets to work around 11 am and does a quick walk-around to see what the day has in store (reservations, orders, etc). Then the lunch rush starts, and like a good leader, she’s out on the floor with her staff, assisting where she can. “I’m a very hands-on manager,” she says. “I think that’s how I alleviate tension and avoid the kind of work environment that was present back when I started. I show my support and my people know I have their backs.”

She also makes a point to chat up the regulars when they’re there. “Entertaining, hilarious characters” she says of them. “They come here to celebrate, and they come here when times are tough, to feel better when the markets are rough.”

After lunch, Darlien uses the ‘down time’ to deal with staffing, inventory, event planning, maintenance and whatever else is going on. Then the dinner rush begins and she’s back on the floor helping out, chatting up guests and making sure everything’s running smoothly. Most of her days are 10 hours long; some are 16, but they’re all fantastic.

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[Far left] Darlien Scott

The GM/Chef Dynamic

“Chef Brooke is a pro at engineering the menu, but I’ll always let him know if an item is well received or not. There was a veal schnitzel on the menu a while back that I noticed was being consistently modified by guests into a veal parm. I told Brooke and the menu was changed.” This kind of fluid relationship is a big reason why the food at Bymark is always on trend and why the operation runs like a well-oiled machine.

At the same time, Darlien’s there for Brooke when he needs help. She stays close to him when he’s getting slammed, acting as the buffer between the kitchen and servers so Brooke only has to go to her with issues or problems.The atmosphere can get pretty heated and intense at times, but we make it work. And we’ll always debrief over a beer and glass of wine when it’s done.”

The pulse of the place

For a GM, there’s no front of the house or back of the house. Darlien’s responsible for the entire house and everyone that comes in and out, whether they’re guests, staff, delivery guys, reps or anyone else.

“The best part of being a GM is the variety of roles” she says. “I love working with people, managing them, mentoring our staff. Restaurant employees are for the most part entertaining, humorous and varied.”  There are several sales reps, event planners and customers that have become friends outside of the restaurant over the years.

“I also really enjoy the planning and executing of events and making guests more than happy with the end result.  It’s really nice to know you’ve made someone’s event a stress free planning process.”

No matter who you are or why you’re there, the great leadership from Brooke and Darlien (and of course, Mark) mean that the entire experience at Bymark is extraordinary, and it shows. Book your table here.

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Darlien Scott and Chef Mark McEwan

 

Supporting Local Eats at McEwan’s Farmers Market

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If you’re a regular farmers market shopper, you know how exciting it can be to stumble upon unique entrepreneurs and their products, while supporting our local food economy.  But wouldn’t it be nice to experience the discovery of exploring a grassroots local market while in the comfort of your favourite luxury grocery store?

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Well, at McEwan’s Farmers Market you absolutely can! Each week, Eric McEwan, son to Chef Mark McEwan, searches the local food scene using popular social media apps like Instagram to uncover unique, innovative and healthy local food products. 

By Saturday, these products and the passionate people behind them, get to set up in the store to sample and sell their delicious wares to you! The most popular products get a permanent place on store shelves. 

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General Manager, George Bachoumis described the process to me, stating “We believe in giving everyone a chance. It’s a great entertaining atmosphere in the store and our customers love the experience of showing their support to local producers.” 

It’s also your chance to work with the staff at McEwan to get your say on what’s sold in store, and as a result, what goes into your family’s mouths. The market is just one more way that McEwan demonstrates their commitment to putting its customers first.

So if you want to support local business, have your say on the next hot inductee into the McEwan’s store, and of course, load up on tasty food samples (because who doesn’t like free snacks?), then be sure to stop by the McEwan Farmers Market for your local food fix!

DELICIOUSLY YOURS,

ABBEY SHARP, RD

OWNER, ABBEY’S KITCHEN

Catering: We Deliver

“When someone trusts you to set up their evening it’s very rewarding, especially when they have high standards.”

That’s Eric McEwan talking about his favourite part of the catering business. But truth be told, it’s hard to find someone with higher standards than this 28 year-old. It’s why his father put him in charge of McEwan Catering and why it’s done so well.

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Mixed Appetizer Platter includes Pork Spring Rolls, Grilled Shrimp, Beef Empanadas, Vegetable Dumplings and Chicken Drumettes

 

Step 1 – Placing the Order

You call with an event in mind, but you’re having trouble picking a menu to complement it. First of all, you should know that that you’re definitely not the first. We get asked for recommendations all the time, and we’ll almost always point customers out of their comfort zones; even ones with specific dietary restrictions, many of which we can accommodate including kosher. After 20 years of dinner parties, occasions and conferences, we’ve come to learn that (a) people remember good food and (b) people remember different food.

Step 2 – Preparing an Event

Gourmet catering is about doing what it takes to make the host look and feel their very best. Part of that is the food, but it’s certainly not the only thing. For example, we work with you find the perfect wine to match the menu and the event. We offer on-site servers and chefs, all trained in-house through the North 44 program. We send some of our dishes on wooden boards and bowls for presentation. We even help you with choosing the perfect space.

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Customers recently hosted a small gathering before heading to a TIFF party.  Their catered spread also included Seasonal Harvest Vegetables with Chili & Lemon Garlic Aioli and Mini Prime Rib Sandwiches

 

Step 3 – Packing the Food

“Organization is the key to catering” says McEwan. “It doesn’t matter if it’s for 5 or 500”. For example, because catering orders usually have to travel and aren’t consumed immediately, sauces and dressings have to be approached differently. Many items are created, then de-constructed and packed to be re-assembled on site by a staff member or by the host. Eric prefers the latter – he says customers like feeling part of the creative process. We agree.  For example the Tuna on Homemade Potato Chip with Mango Mignonette & Fresh Micro Greens includes all the components needed to make this appetizer a hit at any party.

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IMG_7350Have an event coming up? Look at our catering menu, call 416.444.6262, ask for extension 228 and we’ll start turning you in to the host with the utmost.