As a child, I remember being a very picky eater and giving my mother a lot of trouble with the meals she would prepare. Greens, veggies, seafood…. I would not eat any of it.
But as I got older, I started to enjoy food that I would never have attempted to try as a child. Being around my grandmothers a lot, I learned very old traditional Italian dishes by watching and, of course, eating. I am certain it was at this point in my life that I subconsciously made the decision to become a professional Chef.
When I reached my first year of high school, I got a job at Spago Trattoria e Pizzeria. I started as a dishwasher and, like many teenage boys, did not think much of anything at that point in my life. I spent about 4 months washing dishes until I was moved over to the pizza station to start my training. That was it! I remember seeing that wood burning oven…that 900 degree fire…the fresh dough on the white marble…I felt an instant connection on an almost intimate level. Although I still could not explain why, I did not want to be anywhere else. School, friends, girls, grades…these things all took a back seat in my life and I started to struggle with all of them.
I did not understand the lure at the time, and in fact, I still have a hard time putting it in to words. I knew I was going to school to achieve an education, but I did not know what held my passion. When all along it had been right in front of me. That’s where something clicked!
At the age of fourteen, I realized that being a Chef was in my future. From then on, everything I did with school and work, was ultimately to further my experience as an aspiring Chef. My goal and my dream was to study and work in Italy, and I was ready to sacrifice everything in order to find myself in that position.
Just keeping my head above water in school and barely getting by was the norm for me in high school. I decided to enroll in a Co-op Program as well as every cooking class I could take. I started to notice my culinary skills and knowledge improving. I wanted to cross-train and dabble in pastries. So that’s exactly what I did. For six months, I did another Co-op in a local wedding cake and pastry shop, as well as holding down my job at Spago and trying to keep my grades up.
Windsor is my culinary birth. And after high school, being frustrated with the lack of opportunity, at the time, in Windsor, I left for Toronto. I knew that I would never achieve my goal of studying and working abroad if I had stayed. I was accepted into George Brown College in the Hospitality Services Program and a year later entered the Culinary Management program. It is there, where I met many of my friends and mentors and really started to excel.
I could see myself developing into an actual Chef. Every day was about food. Not only did my skills and knowledge begin to blossom, but my dream was becoming something tangible...almost like I could hold it in my hand, and that dream of going abroad became a real possibility.
For the next several years, I studied and worked all around the city. I tried to immerse myself to the most diverse range of culinary and cooking styles as possible. However my intrigue for Italian cuisine was still not being fulfilled. So I enrolled in the Italian Post Culinary Program at George Brown. Having always struggled in high school, I was both ecstatic and intimidated when I was told that I had been accepted to the program.
I was finally going to get my chance. During that spring and summer, I worked the hardest I think I ever had trying to prepare myself professionally for Europe. I remember my biggest fear was failure. A fear and personal motivator I still have today.
Europe was the best learning experience I have ever encountered. It was the hardest I have ever worked at that point and it proved to pay off in ways I would later start to see. The experience I obtained at Il Torre del Saracino, a Two Michelin Star atmosphere, was priceless. Working and learning under the renowned and watchful eye of Chef Gennaro Esposito was a once in a lifetime experience.
Returning from Europe, things started to take off, and my hard work had begun being noticed. I was promoted to Sous Chef at Ciao Wine Bar and later was sent to Miami Florida to be on the opening team of Cibo Wine Bar. Management and the running of a successful, large, up-scale restaurant was now my focus.
After being in a managerial role for several years, I decided to further my education. I have always found the scientific aspect behind food and culinary fascinating, as well as new and developing applications in which to use some of these methods. So with that in mind, I enrolled in the Culinary Innovation and Technology Program at Niagara College.
During this program I moved to Hangzhou, China for a 6 month term at Jiliang University Food Research Labs. China was excellent opportunity to broaden my horizons in the food science sector, as well as, learn firsthand about Chinese culture and its effect of regional food and ancient practices. Being fascinated with the evolution of global cuisine, I found myself standing at the start of the Silk Road. Upon my return to Canada and the completion of my program, I decided to start my own private chef service. The idea of working for myself was something that has always been a dream of mine.
As a young Chef, I have many exciting years to look forward to and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store.
~ Gaetano Pugliese ~
Chef Gaetano Pugliese