Our third instalment in our 'Meet' series, in which we interview and showcase some of the incredibly talented blacksmiths, leather smiths, woodworkers, etc., that we have the pleasure of working with.
As much as we are clearly a Japanese-focused shop, we still love to support our local artisans.
Meet Felicia Alberti. Felicia is a dear friend of ours here at KNIFE. We've known her for over ten years. It was a no brainer to have her conduct our knife skills classes. Her energy and no-nonsense personality are intoxicating. Overhearing her classes in the shop, it's rare that the participants aren't laughing and having a great time. We're all better off for knowing Felicia.
KNIFE: You're a chef by trade, but what did you want to be when you grew up?
Felicia: I was always stuck between motorcycle racer or stage performer. I love to sing and dance, but nothing has a better underlying rhythm than an engine.
K: What is your earliest childhood food memory?
F: Probably my first childhood food memory is at my best friends house. Her mother was an amazing cook, a lot in the Italian vein, and she used to make us 'bacon and egg' pasta... I know now that she was making a huge batch of Carbonara for us, and it remains one of my most treasured recipes.
K: Aside from cooking, what do you like to do in your spare time?
F: Other than cooking, I like to eat. A lot of my free time is spent at restaurants (Eugene should know, it's usually him and I there together), or I'm exploring new food markets in the city.
K: What's your favourite thing to eat on a cold, dreary, rainy day?
F: Pasta e Piselli, Paste e Ceci, Pasta e Fagioli. Something pasta with a little broth that I can cover in Parm!
K: What's your favourite thing to eat on a sunny, hot summer day?
F: Tomato salad, preferably from a local garden, whole basil leaves, good olive oil and maldon salt.
K: What's your guilty pleasure meal?
F: French onion soup. I switch out the croutons for cheese tortellini. Try it, I dare you.
K: What's your favourite hangover meal?
F: If I can get out of the house, Pho. If I've decided not to wear pants that day, pan fried dumplings.
K: What would be your death row meal?
F: My mom's roasted red pepper and sausage spaghettini.
K: Who would you want to spend an afternoon with, living or dead?
F: Julia Child. Shoot, or the Two Fat Ladies. Hilarious.
K: What's the last song you listened to?
F: 'What Makes You Country' by Luke Bryan.
K: What's the last song you wished you listened to?
F: 'Typical Situation' by Dave Matthews Band.
K: How/why did you start cooking professionally?
F: I was working as a receptionist for a doctor's office, I'd done all my work for the week by Tuesday, and I was flipping through a Metro newspaper. I went past a page advertising George Brown and all my feelings of my love of cooking came rushing up. I knew that it was something I had to try as a profession, and I never looked back!
K: What's your go-to knife and why?
F: I have a Misono 440 Gyuto that I use for most things. When I was looking for a new chef's knife after my last Mac 7 1/4" snapped doing something mundane in the kitchen, the team at KNIFE suggested some types that would have a similar feel but a better quality. I've been happy with it for years.
K: If money was no object, is there a knife that you would just have to buy?
F: Masakage Kumo Gyuto. So beautiful, weighted perfectly for me, and did I mention it's beautiful...
K: No matter what day, what mood or what weather, where's a restaurant you could always eat at? (in Toronto)
F: Xe Lua - for industry people AKA Choo Choo Train. It's a Pho shop on Spadina, south west of Dundas, that is one of my favourites. If I'm happy, sad, sick or just hungry, I go there!
K: In the 10+ years of working in restaurants, what do you feel have been the disadvantages, if any, of being a woman in a kitchen?
F: Ha. I've had to work really hard in many of my kitchens to be seen as anything more than a pastry cook or garde manger girl. I started in a kitchen straight out of a Bourdain book, and worked with the boys just as hard, long and with as many swear words and insults. I've been told I'm worth nothing; I've been challenged to strength battles and pushed into the menial jobs. I am blessed now to have been in a kitchen for so long where men and women are equal. So much so, that of the seven chefs we currently have at the AGO, four are women, and even extending to our Front of House, we have many women leading the charge. It truly is a different feeling when you have equality.
K: Have you seen any positive (or negative) changes for women in kitchens over that time?
F: Absolutely, I've seen mostly positive. There are a lot more chefs that are female. We're pushing out of the fine pastries into fine dining. We still need more ladies at the head of top restaurants, but I think we're on the right path.
K: What advice would you give to young cooks starting out in the industry today?
F: I'd say work really hard to start so that your knowledge from years of turmoil will lead you through the rest of your career. If you start off at a place that pays your $28/hour to put beef in a taco shell, you're never going to push yourselves to the smaller restaurants that teach you so much more, but might pay a little less. I struggled for many years as a cook working cheque to cheque, and while I don't think that extreme is necessary, sometimes your motivation to make more by working harder is the only motivation you need to learn those extra skills.
K: If you could live in any country in the world, where would you go?
F: Mmmmm, Greece. I spent time there as a teenager working as an au pair, and I would love to return. The food is amazing, it's central enough that the rest of Europe is your backyard, and if you've never had a smelt eating contest with a seven year-old, you should put it on your bucket list.
K: If you could cook any place in the world, where would you go?
F: Italy. With a Nonna. Mine passed away before I was cooking and I'd give anything for some nonna-isms to rub off on me!
K: What's your favourite place you've travelled to in the past?
F: Hong Kong. 2014 I was there for a week with my best friend. What a place. Food was amazing of course and the culture is super cool.
K: What's the best food you've ever had outside of Canada?
F: A piece of quivering pork belly at a hotel in Hong Kong. That kind of moment where you just close your eyes and enjoy...
K: What's your favourite book?
F: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I guarantee you've never read it, and it should be the next book on your list.
K: What's the last book you read?
F: Look Alive 25 by Janet Evanovich. Don't judge, I was on vacay.
K: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
F: Chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwich with ketchup - Heinz only!
K: If you weren't a chef, what would you like to be doing instead?
F: I would likely still be working in the event business, either as a planner or event sales. I love making people happy, which is the business I'm in!
Felicia's unique mix of dry wit, boisterous energy, and undeniable passion for food are what makes her the perfect addition to our team here at KNIFE.
Thanks for reading,