Chef Profile: Michael Angeloni
When Chef Michael Angeloni was growing up he often had to make perogies with his Polish-born mother before studying for school.
“My mom did shift work, so she always made sure she had a freezer full of them in case she needed gifts to supply the neighborhood,” Angeloni says with a chuckle from Hamilton, Ontario, where he’s checking in on one of his many restaurants. “She had bad arthritis in her hands so she couldn’t press out the circles. That was my job. She’d roll out the dough and I would press them.”
Quite the start for a chef probably best known for his take on Italian food at Toronto restaurants like Amano Trattoria, as well as poultry dishes at Union Chicken in Toronto and Newmarket. The truth is, while Angeloni was working on his prowess with perogies he was also sitting down with his Italian grandmother and learning traditional pasta recipes. That was the skill that won out when Angeloni ended up in his trade, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t think about the neglected part of his heritage.
“Italian food is very popular,” he acknowledges. “It’s like Chinese food, a cuisine that everyone finds approachable. You might see a few Polish or Eastern European restaurants coming around, but it’s definitely not as big a presence. For some people it’s like ‘I don’t really know if I want to have pickled herring,’ or something like that. It’s amazing food, though.”
Angeloni first made the pilgrimage to both his mother’s and father’s respective homelands as part of a general European trip when he was 20. It was there that he began to understand the difference in each country’s food culture. Not only in the types of food, but also the act of dining.
“Dinner in Italy, which takes place after 7 p.m., is like a grand affair. They’re eating all day, and when it comes to dinner there are multiple courses. They’re not big on breakfast. In the south of Poland, where my mom is from, it’s a little bit colder, and there’s always soup with every meal. Breakfast is boiled eggs, rye bread, meat, things like that. Probably because Polish people need that kind of food to hit the mountains for skiing or hiking.”
When Angeloni asked someone in Italy why Italians tend to skip breakfast, he was told that “it gets in the way of lunch.” He chuckles again. “In terms of the morning you might have a cappuccino and maybe a cornetto or something. That’s your breakfast.”
One of Chef Angeloni’s dreams is to open a Polish restaurant to honor the memory of those many perogies he had a hand in making.
“I’ve always thought it would be a great concept to have an almost like cavernous space that reminds you of the south of Poland,” he says. “There are these restaurants sitting at the top of the mountain that have big open fires for grilling sausages. They have housemade sauerkraut and fermented pickles and things like that. I’ve always wanted to do that kind of restaurant in Toronto, and maybe one day in the future I’ll get to do it.”
Q&A with Chef Michael Angeloni:
Where do you live: Westend of Toronto High Park/Roncesvalles
Where did you grow up: Scarborough, Ontario
Favourite comfort food: Tacos. I was Executive Chef for Grand Electric in Parkdale for 4 years where we were known for tacos. I have spent a lot of time travelling through Mexico and there is just something so comforting to me about a taco. The smell of the corn from the tortilla, squeezed with fresh vibrant lime juice, and covered with fresh toppings – it’s just the best, and always makes me happy.
Favourite ingredient to cook with: It would be fresh pasta, but I would say the working with dough portion. So flour and eggs as ingredients.
Best childhood food memory: Making pasta with my grandmother and perogies with my mom
Your go-to restaurant that never disappoints: Imanishi Japanese Kitchen
Who was your most significant culinary influence: I would say probably Thomas Keller because I didn’t realize what a chef could be (I am not that type of chef now i.e. super fine dining) until I read The French Laundry Cookbook. He showed me that being a chef can be an expression of seasons, where you live and where we have come from. Before that, I just thought of being a chef as just a job, but that book showed me it could be so much more.
What do you drink at home: I love a nice bottle of red wine and would say that I lean toward a northern Italian wine like a Barolo or Barbaresco. But I love to experiment with different countries and grape varieties. Also, I always have a selection of Amari and digestivi for the end of a great meal.
Music you listen to while you cook: I am a big vintage vinyl guy; my collection is at about 250 records right now. My taste in music is very extensive, but I would say my go-to would be to throw on an Etta James, Aretha Franklin or Wilson Pickett record and dance around the kitchen while I am cooking.
Why and when did you start cooking: I started cooking professionally at the end of high school. My grades weren’t the best so I was looking into skilled trades. The idea of going to culinary school seemed like a good idea and I had the basic love of food at that point from my mother and grandmother.
Vision for the future: My long term goal is to be in a position to work closer with young people and how they approach food. I would love to help kids that have never experienced great food in the way that I have, to give them this opportunity to see how amazing food can be and how important it is.
photo credit: Jonathan Adediji