Gusto 101 Serves Southern-Italian Dishes with a Twist in a Converted Auto Body Shop in Toronto

Toronto has a dynamic culinary scene with a sheer diversity of restaurants with so many different flavors.

Since the competition is fierce in this city, a restaurant has to stand out to make a name for itself, especially when it serves the popular cuisine of Italian.

Gusto 101 in downtown Toronto at the Portland and Adelaide intersection, does just that.

We visited Gusto 101 a few years ago, a southern-Italian restaurant known for its traditional cuisine paired with a bold and modern twist. Even the name Gusto, which means tasty in Italian, is a tribute to the restaurant's roots to Italy.

With an industrial vibe, the restaurant is located in a former auto body shop and has a rooftop deck, Gusto 101 has a tech-forward kitchen to match its innovative front-of-house interior.

“[This is] probably one of the most high-tech kitchens I’ve ever worked in. We have a full-induction burners, combi oven, so on and so forth…It’s at the top of the level of, as far as, the future of kitchens, and the future of restaurant design...,” says Elio Zennoni, executive chef at Gusto 101 in the video below.

But it’s what the chefs prepare in the high-tech kitchen that is the real triumph.

Some of the most popular dishes include ravioli alla norma, rigatoni bolognese, branzino grilled paired with escarole, cannellini beans, celery, salmoriglio and the Tuscan wood-fired grill with grilled chicken and seasonally changing sides.

Watch the Table 42 Vignette episode below to see Chef Zennoni work his culinary mastery and prepare the signature Tuscan Wood Fired Grill Pollo with grilled chicken, butternut squash puree, farro pickled radicchio, and toasted hazelnuts dish.

Pastry Chef at Michael’s Genuine Talks Desserts and Incorporating the Seasons

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Dessert remains a favorite even for grownups. Roughly one third of guests order dessert when dining out. So it’s safe to say that many consumers can’t resist a sweet after dinner treat, especially when it’s in a mini portioned dessert.

Like appetizers and entrees, desserts are (and have always been) often dependent on the seasons. More restaurants are determining their menu solely based on the ingredients in season. Fall favorites like pumpkin and apple have already started to appear all over menus.

A restaurant known for its cuisine that is “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients” is Michael’s Genuine. This Miami gem is repeatedly on the Foodable Top 25 restaurants.

We decided to get in the kitchen with Maria Jose (MJ) Garcia, the executive pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine to find out what ingredients she enjoys to work with, fan-favorites at MG, and what advice she has for aspiring pastry chefs.  

Foodable: What do you love the most about being a pastry chef?

Chef MJ: There’s a few things. I love working with my team, teaching and grooming. Watching them grow as individuals, I enjoy that the most. Challenging ourselves. Learning how to use our different backgrounds and having fun.

🍎🍎🍎 apple pie with salted caramel gelato 😋😋 #mgfdpastry #mgfddessert #applepie #yummy

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Then also, getting to see people eat something and love it.

Foodable: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?

Chef MJ: I like licorice. I also like to work with things that remind me of my childhood or places I have been. When I am cooking, I like to reminisce the things of my childhood. At the end of the day, when people eat they want to reminisce the things they used to enjoy when they were little.

On a seasonal level, winter would be strawberries, oranges or anything citrus. In the summer, I love to work with stone fruit. In the fall, obviously apple. But, I also love quince (membrillo in Spanish) because the region where I am from, quince is a prominent fruit we see often with cheese platters. In a week or two weeks from now, we will be able to get quince.

Foodable: What are your favorite fall season desserts to prepare? 

Chef MJ: Apple is that versatile ingredient that you can go extremely homey with, like homemade apple pies. But, quince is something I would love to work with more. It’s different for everyone. One of my assistants, loves persimmons and the other one loves pomegranate. 

Foodable: What are the most popular desserts at Michael’s Genuine?

Chef MJ: It varies. Obviously, you have your chocolate-holics that will always go for the chocolate dessert. Chefs Brad’s favorite is the Rosemary Pine Nut Tarte, it’s elegant, mild and very much an adult dessert. Then you have the Apple Fritters, which is my favorite. It’s that fried item that just reminds me of my childhood.

Foodable: If you could only pick five ingredients to make a dessert, what would they be?

Chef MJ: Orange, strawberry, olive oil, almonds and vanilla. Nuts, in particular, always enhance, give flavor and give texture.

Vanilla Pound Cake 🍫🍫🍫 chocolate glaze #thisismgfd #mgfdbrunch

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Foodable: What advice do you have for amateur pastry chefs just starting out?

Chef MJ: You’re going to burn a lot of cake and that’s okay! Keep being persistent. This industry requires a lot of work, work on yourself. Have the strength to be humble and keep working. Just make sure everything that you do is up to your standards and never compromising.

Someone becomes really good at something when they do it a lot of times. I have burnt a hundred cakes in order to make a really good cake. That’s how you make yourself better, if you keep challenging yourself every day.

Foodable: What are some of the dessert trends you are seeing emerge?

Chef MJ: We follow seasonality. American cuisine gives you a big spectrum to work with, you could go Italian, American, French. In terms of trends, I am seeing these California-style bakeries where it is all about method and well-executed desserts, even if it is just a pie. California/ the west coast has set a standard and there are a lot of restaurants that are seasonal now.

It’s interesting to see all these bakeries rising, especially in Florida, like True Loaf with the best bread ever. You see these bakeries that follow that seasonality and that method of doing things perfectly. But, the trend I see the most is sourcing out the best ingredients. 

Chef Khai Vu of Las Vegas' District One Dishes Up 'Crazy, Fun' Vietnamese Cuisine

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

District One Kitchen & Bar is not strictly a Vietnamese cuisine restaurant. Although the restaurant name refers to the district epicenter for entertainment and dining in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest municipality), District One is known to be a melting pot of Asian flavors, including Vietnamese, Thailandese, Chinese, and Japanese.

“In the menu, we have everything from seafood to noodles to different variety of Southeast Asian-inspired dishes,” said Chef and owner Khai Vu. “A lot of it is Vietnamese-inspired because of our roots and where we’re from…”

However, District One’s founders wanted to create a menu that would not only reflect their heritage, but also showcase their experiences by combining flavors from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York.

Chef Vu attributes his entrepreneurial spirit to his father, who taught him how to be a successful businessman, but for his early fascination with food, Chef Vu blames his grandmother.

“From growing up and going to the farmer’s market every weekend with my grandma... every weekend, she would stop everything and make a big family meal,” said Chef Vu.

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In this Table 42 Vignette, Chef Vu demonstrated for us their signature dish: Live Whole Maine Lobster Pho. They get them alive and then they poach them, “...we take them all apart, and then deshell them and put it back together” in order to make it easier for the guest to eat.

“When you order, ask for a female lobster because it comes with all the roll… that’s the good stuff!” Vu added.

At District One, they really go out of their way to give each one of the dishes a home-cooked feel.

“I take all the good dish, put it on a much easier, simpler menu that people can understand and after they are used to it, I’ll bring out more crazy, fun stuff,” said Chef Vu. “We want people to understand more the cuisine, so they can enjoy it more...”