Sunday, September 26, 2010
Grill 41: Sophisticated Comfort Food
(L to R): Sous Chef Piero Catalfo, Head Chef Aurelio Petraglia
Recently along with other food media here in Ottawa, I was made aware of a new restaurant in town: Grill 41, located in the Lord Elgin Hotel. After reading that the menu was the result of a collaboration between two well-travelled Chefs (Michael Smith being one of them), I was interested to know more about the other half of this collaboration --Chef Aurelio Petraglia.
Born in Uruguay and raised in Toronto, Chef Petraglia has now come to Ottawa and he agreed to sit down and chat with After the Harvest about his latest culinary venture. When asked why he came back to Canada after spending time abroad in France, Dubai, Bahrain and Thailand, Chef Petraglia simply said, "I came back because Canada's my country."
After the Harvest (ATH): How would you describe your cooking style or culinary point of view?
Chef Aurelio Petraglia (AP): I would say it's diverse because in my travels I learned to adapt to many different styles. My cooking style is an exploration of those different influences, fused with local ingredients. Working with Chef Michael Smith on this menu I received coaching to stick to local fresh product and (in Chef Smith's words), "let the ingredients speak for themselves and keep it simple." With that in mind, I'd say the food at Grill 41 is sophisticated comfort food.
ATH: What are some of your favourite "quintessentially Canadian" ingredients to cook with?
AP: Cheese! Quebecois flavours, homey food, root vegetables, corn, beer and Saskatoon berries just to name a few. That is a tough question because Canada is so diverse. These days people are more curious to discover what's growing locally in their own backyards, which is great. We're taking the lead from Europe, getting a hold of our identity and gaining pride in our food.
ATH: What are your impressions of the local food scene here in Ottawa? Have you visited local markets and farms? Are you working with any particular farmers or producers?
AP: Our supplier is buying locally and seasonally as much as possible and we find ways to use what's available by using different techniques like making purees, pickling etc. I've visited the Byward Market and I've found the food to be of high quality, very accessible and affordable.
ATH: For the Toronto readers out there, what are some of your favourite Toronto restaurants?
AP: I really like Jamie Kennedy's food, also Massimo Capra -- he's passionate and his food is Italian yet local. J.P. Chalet, formerly of the Windsor Arms Hotel is also a favourite of mine.
ATH: What did you learn from working with Chef Michael Smith?
AP: I was lucky to have worked with him. I did a lot of research and took his advice to heart. He told me, "go with your surroundings, have faith in your vision and don't be so concerned with pleasing everyone." For me, I've always believed that you're as good as your cooks, so I recruited my team based on great Chefs and cooks that I've worked with in the past.
ATH: What is your earliest food memory?
AP: My father, being Uruguayan, cooked a lot of traditional grilled meats so I have fond memories of his food, but my mother also made great comfort food, more North American fare such as stroganoff.
ATH: What do you want the people of Ottawa to know about Grill 41?
AP: That it's not just another hotel restaurant. It is in a hotel and we enjoy serving the hotel guests, but Grill 41 is also a standalone restaurant. We'll be serving sophisticated comfort food. We'll be offering simple, fresh, good quality, affordable meals ($80-100 for 2), and we're here to accommodate Ottawa and give them another dining option.
I want to mention my Sous Chef, Piero Catalfo, who has worked with Liberty Entertainment and at Beer Bistro in Toronto. We work very well together, he's professional and has a very good palate. He will be one of the reasons for our success as a team at Grill 41.
ATH: Why did you become a Chef?
AP: It wasn't planned. My first job was in a small Lebanese restaurant in Toronto, but it wasn't until my first professional position at The Fairmont Royal York that I realized I wanted to be a Chef. That experience changed me, not just as a cook but as a person.
I really enjoyed my chat with Chef Petraglia, and if the food at Grill 41 is as professional and approachable as the Chef himself, then I'm sure we'll have another fantastic place to eat here in Ottawa. I'm also very excited about Chef Michael Smith's Table d'hote, which features dishes such as grilled rib eye, PEI chowder and molten dark chocolate cake. A portion of the proceeds from Chef Smith's menu will go to The Ottawa Food Bank.