Tutti Matti…Italian; “Everyone is crazy”…except those at Tutti Matti

All is crazy, seems to be the theme these days….and by days, I mean years.  About 12 years ago, a cyclone went through our town and planted a tree in our roof.  Just over three years ago our house exploded and we found ourselves homeless for a few months while all was being re-built.  Two weeks ago, an F3 tornado cut a swath through Goderich again, this time decimating the core of the town.  As each disaster left its physical scars, the real work began to emerge.  Each event stressful for some more than others.  Each event we found ourselves turning to rituals to calm, restore and replenish our tired minds, bodies and souls.

As is often noted, the ritual of food preparation and sharing is also one that sustains us in more ways than just nutritionally.

Pat and I chose to leave the craziness and stress of Goderich, where his office building is in a delicate state, in order to bring Emily back to McGill.  An attempt at creating normalcy.  Our time away meant that we could be taken out of the obvious circumstances of the office re-location and 15 staff, in order to pause, and if lucky have a good sleep.

On our way home from Montreal we took one more night in Toronto, so that we could go to our favorite Toronto restaurant, Tutti Matti.  We discovered Tutti Matti within months of it opening a few years ago.  We were drawn by the initial review of the restaurant, and that it served traditional Tuscan food; but what makes us go back again and again, is the fact that it not only nourishes our bodies, but our weary selves.  One cannot live well, love well or sleep well, unless one has dined well. Virginia Woolf.  I would add, that the value of the dining experience is directly related to those that prepare and share it with you.  This is where Tutti Matti shines.

As with all other visits that have included many personal celebrations(most recently Patrick’s 50th), we were warmly received and brought to our table in full view of the open kitchen.  I spent many years working in restaurants and to say that  pots and pans being thrown around were as frequent as the incessant swearing and yelling, is an understatement.  No such disorder exists at Tutti Matti.  This is a rarefied group within the often times turbulent restaurant industry.  The only thing crazy at Tutti Matti are the customers….like us;)  The staff is incredibly organized, efficient and are clearly passionate about their individual trades.  Each person contributes skillfully to the sense of purpose and calm.

Tutti Matti is as stable as the traditions that are reflected within its walls.  The unrelenting ability to create authentic Tuscan cuisine is awe-inspiring.  This is all due to its birth-mother Alida Soloman.  I have always believed that superior performance in a restaurant can only be achieved by a great leader, and Alida is this.  That comment will make her cringe!…I should take it out, but I can’t!  The staff are genuinely nice, I know that sounds hokey, but its true.  You want to invite them all over to your own house just to send a little lovin’ back their way.

Last night, Patrick and I chose this for dinner:  To share…FORMAGGI MISTI: schiacciata(tuscan flatbread) with olive oil, potato, shaved asparagus, pepper pecorino and 2 ducks eggs over easy.

Patrick’s main…PORCHETTA: oven roasted suckling pig with dried apricots, sauteed spinach and soft polenta

My main…GNUDI:pulled crab, chicory, mint, lemon presh peas, semolina ricotta

shared side:  PISELLI ALLA FIORENTINA: peas with prosciutto, onion, rosemary, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Along with a couple a beautiful glasses of wine, we were satiated and happy.

Food allows us to re-centre, to have a break in our days.  Beautifully prepared food, delivered with care and joy elevates the event to the spiritual.  When I had my cafe, I was constantly humbled by customers that allowed me to nourish them; especially those that were visibly suffering from life-threatening disease.  I fed many who had the courage to get out, when the mirror probably told them to stay in bed.  These are the people who continue to inspire me.

While our family is healthy and safe, we know the importance of re-fueling.  At Tutti Matti you will genuinely be inspired by the kitchen, and humbly grateful for their attention.  It’s why we go back.  It’s why we know that every single person in that restaurant goes back.  We are all one.

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food and love: go big or go home

When I had my cook-shop and cafe, my walls were painted “chalkboard green”.  Onto which, I wrote whatever I felt like: descriptions of cookware, food specials of the day, and interesting quotes.  The following is the first quote that I scribbled on my walls and endorse whole-heartedly;)!

“Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”  Harriet Van Horne

On that note; the following is just one of my versions of a “grown-up grilled cheese”…perfect casual lunch— the title is humble, but the ingredients stellar.

It all starts with the cast iron pan.…I fried up the bacon in it before adding the sandwiches.  Simple: artisanal bread(this was called rustica olive). Onto which I spread smoked red pepper jelly, on the other side I placed chopped spinach and local old cheddar, then finally the bacon.  The sandwich was fried crisply and slowly to allow the cheddar to melt into the bacon and spinach.

This is a basic grilled cheese that has been elevated by the ingredients.  No more are the days of the Kraft slices prematurely oozing out of the bread before it had browned nicely, we now have access to creamery’s that produce traditional nutty cheddars, and beautiful breads that provide the texture and foundation of the dish.  Add to it a chutney or savory jam, and against my husbands wishes, add some green.  There is a balance of sweet,salty and savory against the backdrop of the old-world style bread.  Ooooohhhh la la!  While I don’t cook/eat like this every day; when I do, I make it count!

love what you do

I love people that love what they do!  It can be the woman at the MAC make-up counter who is clearly excited to show an old gal like me some new tricks, the plumber that hooks up the latest water feature for our bathroom, or someone like Stacie Constantine.  Stacie opened The Kimberley General Store last year in the hamlet of Kimberley, On….population 92.  This includes the dozen or so seasonal residents like us!

Residents and seasonals to this area were so excited about this that you would have thought that we were collectively launching a mission to Mars.  You see, Kimberley is the little spot on the hwy that you slowly drive-through on your way someplace else.  I mention the speed because there is an unspoken respect for this little place that seems to encourage people to slow down, smile and get in their groove.  Transports slow down well before so as not to use air brakes, as do frenzied parents carrying car-loads of excited children to nearby Collingwood for ski races.  We are fortunate to have a small ski house close by.  We are especially fortunate to have Stacie among us.

Why am I so enamoured with The Kimberley General Store?  It could be that my own cookshop and cafe was housed in a similar 150 year old building, it could be that Stacie is stocking her shop with food grown by local purveyors, or it could be simply that Stacie’s warm nature and heartfelt enthusiasm for her store, is what makes us all want to buy every grocery possible just to support her.  She is as her store reflects; earthy, interesting, welcoming, whimsical and attractive;)

This was my beautiful lunch made by Stacie…..dessert was spectacular!

While you are out-and-about this weekend…hell, every day….make sure to take the time to visit the small independent businesses that continue to bring beauty and authenticity to our lives.  We are privileged to live in a country that allows and encourages free expression and whether it comes in the form of the written word, the clothes we wear or those shop-keepers and restauranteurs that continue to remind us of the importance of what is real; they deserve our support.

Look past the big box stores and you will find the experience of shopping is much more gratifying.  Suddenly, you go back in time where people really do matter.  Every penny spent in an independent shop is money well spent.  You are in fact, saying with those pennies that you care about their business, about them and for the effort to facilitate genuine human interaction.  Their presence in our communities enriches us.  In return for their efforts to live and work in a way that matches their philosophy; please drop by, buy something:), say something encouraging and spread the word!  Stacie Rocks!  Pass it on!!!