Stirring the Pot with Chef Paul Pisa

Paul Pisa is a homegrown Toronto chef, trained under chefs Mark McEwan and Keith Froggett. In the mid-1990s, Pisa was executive chef of Ellipsis, the popular though now-defunct modern Italian brunch and dinner spot on College Street. When Ellipsis closed, Pisa moved across the street to helm the large and busy Brasserie Aix, serving authentic French-style food.

In 2002, Pisa first joined the team of Toronto hospitality specialists, the Quinn family, who were longtime friends from Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place) days. At P.J. O’Brien (39 Colborne Street), Pisa was awarded Best Pub Fare in Canada by the National Post, and built a popular following serving high-quality gastro-pub fare.

In 2005, Pisa left Toronto and launched his own restaurant in the countryside north of Kingston, Ontario. While the business was successful, the partnership was not, and ultimately Pisa returned to the city – and to Quinn hospitality – as Executive Chef of Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar (96 Richmond Street West), located in the Sheraton Centre hotel at Bay and Richmond.

What inspired you to become a chef?

When I was young I studied music. Then one day I ate a meal prepared by the late Chef Raphaelo Ferrari that showed me the music in food, and I was inspired.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

My personal favourite dish on the Quinn’s Steakhouse menu is the organic salmon. I like the fact that although the salmon is farmed, it is raised using ethical and environmentally conscientious practices. The pairing of the salmon with the earthy Puy lentils and the crisp, bright fresh herb salad balances flavours and textures beautifully. It is a nice dish for summer.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

The top three ingredients I would not want to be without would have to be sea salt, which brings all the other flavours to life; fresh herbs, for their irreplaceable, nuanced fresh flavours; and quality olive oil, a delicious, healthy, versatile, unmatched on salads and traditional in French and Italian cuisines.

On your day off – what are you cooking at home? If you’re eating out, where do you go?

On my day off I enjoy cooking for and with my family – teaching my kids to love duck, foie gras, garlic, hot chilies or rapini. If I’m eating out I enjoy varied, fresh, authentic meals like best quality sushi, a great steak or even a really well made pho.

What is your favourite thing about the food scene in Toronto?

My favourite thing about the food scene in Toronto is actually one of my favourite things about the city itself: the ethnic diversity. You can satisfy a craving for just about anything in Toronto.

What’s coming up?

Our table d’hote and tasting menus give us a chance to be creative, try new things, and respond to what is available locally.