Co-founder David Minicucci talks about the city’s newest restaurant festival
Photo by Rick O’Brien
Remember the first Winterlicious festival in 2003?
“It was just after SARS,” says David Minicucci. “The idea was to help the industry recover and promote the independent, neighbourhood restaurants during the slow season.
“There were only 30 restaurants participating and the fixed price was $20.03 wherever you went – because it was 2003. It was beautiful because it was all these little mom-and-pop restaurants around the city, people working 70-80 hours a week to support their families.”
But today the Toronto “Licious” festivals (Summer & Winter-licious) have grown to over 200 restaurants of all types and sizes, and for many independents like Minicucci’s L’Unità (134 Avenue Rd.) it’s just not as effective as it once was.
That’s what got he and his friends in the Consorzio di Ristoranti Italiani – a loose association of Italian restaurants in Toronto – thinking about an alternative, something closer in spirit to the original ’Licious festival.
“It had to be fun, and tell a story,” says Minicucci, but at the same time “the menu had to be hardcore. As authentic and traditional as possible, to really make people say ‘wow,’ because it features certain dishes you can’t normally do in our day-to-day restaurant settings.”
It didn’t take long for the group to hit on the idea of a restaurant festival featuring regionally themed, fixed price menus, a perfect vehicle for showcasing the diversity and seasonality of Italian cuisine.
Each restaurant picks one of Italy’s twenty different regions to highlight for the week, and they chose the name Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) because it gives you the opportunity to take a virtual trip around the peninsula during the festival.
David Minicucci’s L’Unità showcases dishes from his home region, Molise. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Andrew Milne-Allan brings little known cuisine of Sardinia to uptown eatery Zucca. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Ardo’s Roberto Marotta takes a hiatus from Sicily to offer a classic Tuscan menu. Photo by Rick O’Brien
All restaurants offer a traditional 4-course Italian meal (antipasto, primo, secondo, dolce & formaggio) for $49, with select restaurants also offering a slimmed down 3-course meal for $29.
The set-menu format gives chefs the opportunity to experiment with lesser known dishes or regional cuisines (Molise, Marche, Sardegna). Or to simply do something out of the ordinary, like the Sicilian restaurant Ardo offering a Tuscan menu.
“In the winter we did Emilia-Romagna,” says Minicucci about the inaugural Giro D’Italia that took place in January of 2017. “And it was cool the way everyone from the kitchen to the front of house learned about the region – the culture, the history, the industry, in addition to the food and wine.
Bricco executive chef Cherie Dee Leal cooks up Sicilian classics in the Junction. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Fabio Bondi offers highlights from Lazio at Local Kitchen in Parkdale. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Photo by Rick O’Brien
“You think about all the great products that come from there – the cars and designers, plus the salumi, the balsamico, the parmigiano. We were even able to bring in some hard-to-find wines from the area. It gave our staff and customers a new appreciation for the cuisine and the culture.”
There are sixteen restaurants participating in the summer edition Giro, happening July 20-30, up from ten in January. And while it might be nice to get to twenty restaurants, one for each Italian region, by the next Giro, that’s not what’s really important to Minicucci and the Consorzio.
“The biggest comment I got from customers last time was ‘what’s in it for you? Aren’t you promoting your competitors?’ Yes, but they’re also my friends and colleagues, we grew up in the restaurant business together. I want you to go check out their restaurants and tell me what you think. Because ultimately what I want, and what we all want as a group, is to promote Italian food and culture in this city.”
“To be honest, what I get out of this the most is fun. And as long as it’s fun we’re going to keep doing it.”
The summer 2017 edition of Giro d’Italia happens July 20-30 at 16 Italian restaurants across the city. See below for the complete list or visit www.girotoronto.ca for full details.
Mercatto Chef Doug Neigel highlights the flavours of Puglia in the financial district. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Ascari Enoteca’s John Sinopoli brings a taste of Emilia-Romagna to Leslieville. Photo by Rick O’Brien
Photo by Rick O’Brien
Participating Restaurants: Giro D’Italia Summer 2017
Ardo – Toscana – www.ardorestaurant.com
Aria – Piemonte – www.ariaristorante.ca
Ascari Enoteca – Emilia Romagna – www.ascarienoteca.ca
Bricco – Sicilia – www.briccowinebar.com
Enoteca Sociale – Liguria – www.sociale.ca
F’Amelia – Basilicata – www.famelia.com
L’Unità – Molise – www.lunita.ca
Local Kitchen – Lazio – www.localkitchen.ca
Locale Mercatto – Puglia – www.localemercatto.ca
Mistura – Abruzzo – www.mistura.ca
Noce – Le Marche – www.nocerestaurant.ca
Oretta – Veneto – www.oretta.to
Paese – Calabria – www.paeseristorante.com
Quanto Basta – Campania – www.quantobasta.ca
Stelvio – Lombardia – www. stelviotoronto.ca
Zucca – Sardegna – www.zuccatrattoria.com