Stefano Faita's passion for cooking

Montreal’s Stefano Faita is aiming to revive a sense of fun in the kitchen with his new half-hour cooking show, In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita. The show made its debut earlier this week on CBC.

A virtual unknown in English Canada, Faita arrives with very little formal training, but a real passion for cooking. His philosophy: keep it simple, but don’t be afraid to experiment.

“The show is really about having fun in the kitchen and I just want to send a message to everyone that they should try to spend some time during the week – and I know people have busy weeks – but spend some time in the kitchen – cook a bit, let the family participate, make it an activity,” he says.

For Faita, food is one of life’s great pleasures and he believes families that don’t get together for a great meal are missing out. When he grew up in Montreal's Little Italy, family life was centred around food and cooking. “I come from a family where everybody cooks,” he says.

His Italian grandfather ran a vegetable stall in the Jean-Talon market, his grandmothers from both sides cooked everything from the freshest of ingredients and his parents have owned a kitchenware store, Quincaillerie Dante, in Montreal’s Little Italy since 1956. His favourite childhood dish – his paternal grandmother’s stuffed chicken – is a recipe lost to posterity because she died without writing it down.

Faita recalls sitting in the corner of the kitchen watching his mother cook on a weekend morning while other kids were watching cartoons.

“Every Sunday she used to make homemade pasta, my mom, and she would get me and my sister to participate in the activity of making homemade pasta, so that is the first thing I learned to make from scratch. I was probably four or five years old,” he told CBC News.

In high school he and his best friend, now a chef — would ditch school to cook. “We would have pizza parties – I started making my own dough and working with my own dough,” he recalled.

Pizza was the first lesson he taught to students – the classes of six to eight people in the Mezza Luna Cooking School which his mother and sister started beside the store. Faita had begun on a career as a graphic designer, but when the magazine he worked for folded, he returned to the family business – working in the store by day and teaching in the evenings. He helped demonstrate and teach antipasti and risottos – foods he knew how to make from his grandmothers.

At the school, he also assisted professional chefs brought in to help with classes. And that’s where he began to thinking like a chef —picking up techniques used in the best kitchens, but adapting them for laymen.

“I’m not most the refined cook and definitely not the most organized, but I’m definitely passionate about what I do,” Faita says.

He hopes to convey this enthusiasm with In the Kitchen With Stefano Faita, his half-hour show airing every weekday on CBC-TV. Shot in front on a live studio audience, the show moves quickly, tackling two to three recipes a day. Faita says about 70 per cent of the recipes will be Mediterranean-style, but he’ll also be experimenting with Asian, Mexican, Indian and French cooking.

While he loves fresh ingredients personally and believes cooking is a great way to build relationships with friends and family, Faita says he’s not there to preach – just to make it look easy. Faita wants the viewers, and the studio audience, to be able to take any recipe home and cook it. “I’m giving them simple recipes, but hopefully I’m taking them to another level,” he says.

Between takes, he likes to answer questions from the audience —about himself, his family and his approach to food. “I try to make it as accessible as possible. People have to be able to find the ingredients. All the recipes that we are making on the show it’s pretty guaranteed that you’re going to be able to find the ingredients. If we are not sure, we have people on our team call a grocery store in cities three or four hours from Toronto and ask do you guys have this in stock?”

That’s the same approach he takes to his weekly column for Le Journal de Montreal, which also has to work for people living in more remote corners of Quebec. Faita is also the host of a personal food documentary series, Al Dante, for the French-language specialty network CASA and appears as the resident food contributor on Kampaï, Radio-Canada's weekly health series.

The first series of CBC shows shot this summer were his first appearance before Toronto audiences. He found people were curious about him and his family, and willing to try out a very wide range of cooking styles. Faita says he tries to give tips to make the process easier and suggest alternatives, where there is an ingredient that someone cannot find or doesn’t like.

“Make it your own,” he says.

In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita airs every weekday at 3.30 p.m. (4 p.m. NT) on CBC-TV.

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