Q. Hi Janet, thanks for taking a few moments to talk with us. Gusto 101 is one of your newest restaurant ventures in Toronto and it’s clearly a big hit. How did you come up with the idea/concept for Gusto 101?
A. Over the years my passion for travel and continual search for great food has carried me to many countries across the world. After working 17 years in the industry, I decided to create a restaurant reflective of all I had learned. Essentially, Gusto represents this merge of personal and professional experience, however, the look and feel of the restaurant itself was directly inspired by its origins as a 1950s auto body shop.
Q. Your other place is an Italian place called Trattoria Nervosa. How long has that been around and what’s the difference between that and Gusto 101?
A. I opened Trattoria Nervosa in the summer of 1996. Located in Yorkville, Nervosa offers a mid range dining option in a neighborhood that is largely composed of high end hotels and boutiques. Gusto, on the other hand, situated in the trendy King St. West area near the heart of the entertainment district, caters to a younger demographic.
Q. I hear you have a top-notch Chef at the helm at Gusto 101.
A. Tommy McHugh will be the new Executive Chef for Gusto 101 and Trattoria Nervosa. A Toronto native, McHugh spent six-and-a-half years in London working in the kitchens of some of the world’s best restaurants. He trained under Peter Kromberg at Le Soufflé and, in addition to Joel Robuchon and The Capital Hotel’s Michelin restaurants, he worked at Mossimann’s, J. Sheeky and The Ivy. McHugh has also worked in some of Toronto’s best kitchens, most recently as Chef de Cuisine at highly regarded Splendido. Not only does Chef McHugh have excellent skills in the kitchen, his passion for food and his keen entrepreneurial spirit are a perfect fit for our brand
Q. You have a long family history in the food business as coffee and espresso machine importer no? Do you think that had a big influence on you becoming a restaurateur?
A. My father brought the first espresso machine to Canada in 1954, essentially starting coffee culture. I began working for him at a very young age selling espresso coffee machines and restaurant equipment. Having been on the supplier side for many years and having dealt with countless restaurateurs, I feel I gained a sort of “behind the scenes” access to the workings of the restaurant industry-an experience that has definitely influenced me and the way I run my businesses today. Whenever I open a restaurant, I aspire to offer my diners new experiences, which is why at Gusto we are proud to say that we were the very first to offer wine on tap and have the only retractable roof in the city. I have my father to thank, an entrepreneur and pioneer in his own right, for having instilled in me this entrepreneurial spirit and drive for innovation.
Q. I heard that your team was trained on the fine art of Italian pizza making in Italy. Is that true and what was that like?
A. I was certified by the AVPN, which is the official association in Naples, about 10 years ago. Shortly after having been certified, we brought in a representative from the AVPN to certify more members of our team. Going through the certification process was an absolutely invaluable learning experience. The AVPN told me that I was the first female certified pizzaiola to be certified in Canada, and with the amount of knowledge I gathered from that training process, I feel I should have my PHD in pizza making!
Q. I also heard that Gusto 101 does wine on tap for a buck and ounce. That’s pretty cool. What’s the story there? What are the wines?
A. My good friend, Alejandra DeMiguel from V1 winery, is our winemaker. On tap we currently have a Pinot Grigio, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, as well as a newly introduced rosé. We were the first in Toronto to offer wine on tap. The buck an ounce idea came to me in the middle of the night and has proved to be a tremendous success.
Q. Tell us about the Toronto dining scene overall. You’re at the heart of it all. How would you characterize it?
A. The dining scene in Toronto has definitely developed within recent years. The fact that very well known and celebrated chefs, such as David Chang from Momofuku or Daniel Boulud, are choosing to open locations in Toronto, I believe speaks volumes about the city’s increasingly sophisticated and diverse restaurant scene. In addition to these industry “heavy hitters,” we also have young and up-and-coming chefs opening up some very interesting, cutting edge restaurants. I feel that a lot of what I’ve been seeing in New York of late, in regards to the level of quality and innovation, is now taking root in Toronto.
Q. As an avid traveler, where are your favorite cities or countries to head to when you can and why?
A. Italy will without a doubt always remain one of my top destinations for the simple fact that, in my opinion, the Italians are unmatched in their zest for food, wine and life in general. Besides Italy, I make constant trips to New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to gather inspiration. New York, with the likes of Danny Meyer and the Batali Group, is where the best of the best congregate, so for me every venture there is an informative one. Other international cities I gather inspiration from are Buenos Aires, Rio, London and Paris.
Q. Final question. You can go anywhere in the States or Canada for dinner this weekend, what two or three restaurants would you pick?
A. Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley highlights the abundant resources of the Hudson Valley area by sourcing all of their food from the surrounding fields, pastures, and local farms. Lucali Pizzeria in Brooklyn is another favorite of mine. It’s a tiny place run by a brooding Ital-American, who spins his dough by candle light to the tunes of Dean Martin. He offers only a few types of pizza and it’s BYO wine, but I had the most amazing and transporting dining experience. State Bird Provisions on Fillmore St. in San Francisco is great for adventurous, inventive, and delicious American food served in a unique way via dim sum cart.