Nicolas: I come from the small Italian country side where food has a special importance. my grandpa was a farmer, my dad would make his own wine, and my uncle owned a butcher shop for 40 years. And that’s what I grew up around. My uncle’s butcher shop was across the street from the school where we used to go, and after school, I would go to my uncle’s shop and wait for my mom to come and pick me up. So I used to play, and go through the fridges, and you know, the cows are hanging there, the chunks of meat are everywhere, but that was normal for me to see this. My uncle was also an old school butcher, so at the beginning he used to kill his own stock. So every now and then, you could find him in the back skinning a cow or a pig. I remember this one time, the pig ran away, and we had to chase him around the town.
We used to grow our own corn for the animals too, so it was really about being in control of our food as much as we could. And even though I’ve moved to the city and have been living here now for many years, I still want my kids to know the importance of food and everything I had when I grew up, because I think it’s very important to their development.
Monika: And it’s nice to involve the kids in the process of cooking otherwise we would end up putting them in front of the TV. That’s the reality of today, so you might as well involve them so they are more keen to eat and try new things. Victoria was 4 when she started to question everything that was on the table, but the minute she was part of the making process, she was more likely to eat and try new things. She is not appreciative at this age, she just wants to get through the meals so she can go and play. But if making food is part of the game , I think that brings her appreciation to what is on that plate from a young age. And I would love for her to be able to, at a later stage in life, say “Oh I know how to do this, I know how to cook that, I know how to bake, I know how to cook, I know how to make my own pizza.” It’s a great skill that many parents tend to overlook.
Nicolas: When I first began my career, I used to work in this restaurant in the U.K. We used to get a lot of American customers, and the comments were always the same: “the food is great, the restaurant is great, we love it, but the portions are too small.” Because I grew up in Europe, I would think to myself, “what do you mean! I just gave you a 150g of beef tenderloin, what’s your problem?” The portion issue didn’t make sense to me until we moved to New York. The first time we went out to eat, we went to a diner, and when the food was served, everything was in massive quantities! I ask our server for a side of corn and he poured me a bowl of corn! I am not a chicken! what am I suppose to do with all of that! And a big part of this is because of the North American education and economy. Everything here is huge, and that has had a huge impact on how people have come to understand food in this part of the world.
I am now in a position where I’m dealing with people and the perception of value on the dollar, and it opens up your eyes. For me I don’t see anything wrong with spending $40 on a steak, if it’s a delicious steak, I don’t mind. For the majority of people your $40 has to give you a huge quantity of something. It’s not about the quality of what you get, it’s how much you get, and it’s terrible! I’ve had neighbors tell me that I can get the same 10 ounce steak down the road for $19. But when you get that steak you understand why it’s so cheap, because the fucking thing bounce back at you when you throw it! The mentality here is always about how much you can get for your dollar and not paying attention to what you’re eating. A big part of the issue comes from our economy and the politics behind food production, but it also comes back down to not appreciating food and our education towards it. A lot of people have never been put in a position that I had while growing up or that my kids have, where you are making your own food or where somebody explains to you where it comes from, what is good food and what is not good food.
Nicolas Comazzi — Chef de Cuisine | Aria Restaurant