As co-owner of Toronto’s Mistura Restaurant and Sopra Upper Lounge, as well as cookbook author, newspaper writer, spokesmodel and television star, the mustachioed multi-tasking Executive Chef, Massimo Capra, is still happiest when he’s in the kitchen.
SARA WAXMAN: When did you realize you were going to be a chef? MASSIMO CAPRA: I fell into it. I was 14 and I needed to make a decision on what kind of education I was going to get. I was in Italy and my schooling left a little to be desired. So I needed to pick a profession that would get me out of my house and get me working. I went to a state-run cooking school near Parma. We had three classes of 3-year courses, each year we’d have to do 2 days of practice and 4 days of school a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We worked really hard.
SW: So then you came to Canada? MC: I came when I was 22, after military service. I got married here when I was 26 and then I continued working in restaurants. But I was a hotel boy. I liked my brigade with lots of cooks in it. Everyone knew what to do and how to do it.
SW: Then when you worked at Prego in Toronto—did you all of a sudden realize that you had this “personality?” MC: Prego offered, to the people working and to the public, something that was never matched by another restaurant. Michael Carlevale was a superstar, he really knew how to create a room, a menu, entertain people. But like all good things, they had to come to an end. My kids were growing up and I never saw them because I was working six days a week, coming home around 2 am and leaving by 9:30 again the next morning. On Sundays I would crash and sleep. So I had an opportunity that came by chance, they wanted to do a trattoria/Italian-style thing. It was a light style restaurant. But our restaurant created a demand that we bring the dining experience up. So little by little it became what it is, fine dining Italian.
SW: So you went from being a star chef at Prego to television. It suits you. MC: Yes. I felt comfortable—you know what I mean? Then I started developing a mustache. And sometimes a mustache is really detrimental because people see the mustache and they think: “That’s the guy with the mustache,” but they don’t realize that that’s the guy who was in the kitchen cooking good food before the mustache came along. I have a lot of good meals behind me. It’s not just the mustache. I realized TV was a good medium. I did an interview on Citytv’s CityLine when Marilyn Dennis was still the host and I guess I hit it out of the park because I’m still there with 30 shows a year. I’m also working on my own show called Gourmet Escapes. Basically, I go to a nice area of the world and I meet up with a chef who will take me to see where the food is produced or made and then he shows me how the food is being utilized. I met a chef in Ireland who showed me how great Irish cuisine really is. In Iceland, I judged the Festival of Chefs.
SW: If you had to choose one road, to be a television chef, a cookbook writing chef, or a restaurant chef, what would that be? MC: You can’t take the restaurant out of my life. I’m always here, six nights a week, I look after the cooks. I know what’s coming, what’s going, and I try to stay on top of it. I still take an interest in what’s next and what’s interesting, but it bothers me a little bit when the mentality is new but not good, you know, there is new and there is also good.
SW: What about your upstairs lounge Sopra? Is that part of the restaurant? MC: No, Sopra is a lounge and supper club. We do music on Fridays and Saturdays. One can come in and enjoy a similar meal [to Mistura]. Same chefs, same food, some different items because we tend to more of a lighter fare and more variety in appetizers upstairs, but the mains and everything are very similar.
SW: What’s your favourite thing to cook? MC: I worked for many years on the pasta station and I love making pastas. I love preparing them, thinking about preparing different combinations. Those are always my main focus and I really enjoy them. I have a section that is all the classics that people absolutely command year after year. Then we have a section that’s all the chef’s picks that we change continuously and every month we update that. So it’s quite interesting to read the menu, and there’s something for everyone.
SW: You’ve been married 25 years and you’ve only just gone on your honeymoon. MC: This was the very first non-business traveling that I’ve done. I didn’t see anybody related to any restaurant, food, food business, anything. I waited 25 years. I still have my wife, so I’m okay! We spent three days in Barcelona, sailing for 12 days, and then four days in Paris. We got married again on board the ship.
SW: That tells me you are a happy man. That’s wonderful. MC: It’s a good turn of events. I was brought up the old fashioned way. You got a job and you worked all your life and people are going to respect you eventually. And as long as you keep your head down everything works. That’s what I believe.
Mistura, 265 Davenport Ave., Toronto, (416) 515-0009
Sopra Upper Lounge, 265 Davenport Ave (upstairs), (416) 929-9006