a few weeks ago i was wandering through the trinity bellwoods farmers market, snapping pics and talking to farmers about their produce, and out of the corner of my eye i spotted this giant tray of handmade pasta (it’s like a 6th sense – i swear i can always tell if there’s pasta in my vicinity). i made a beeline towards the booth and discovered sarah and her husband christopher and their little shop. i knew right away that they were the next people i wanted to get to know for my food for thought series, and i am so happy that i did. this shop is like an incarnation of my cooking philosophy, and exactly what i needed to discover in the city.
i popped over to alimentari on roncevalles on friday and had one of my favourite experiences i’ve had as a blogger. the first thing i noticed walking in was the swoon-worthy wall of goods. stacked floor to ceiling, there was a mix of imported and locally sourced products: pastas, cans of tomatoes, jars of olives and peppers and condiments beautifully merchandised, each brand with an elegant tag with a description of how its made and from where it’s sourced beside it, and i literally wanted two of everything. but what made this experience so special is that soon as i walked into the beautiful, warmly lit space, i was treated like family. everyone from the lovely ladies working the cash, to the kind kitchen staff, to the their good friend hanging out in the space enjoying a glass of wine, made me feel like i was walking into an old friend’s house: immediately comfortable, happy, and taken care of. sarah and christopher themselves are some of the warmest people i’ve ever met, who’s adoration for each other makes your heart turn into mush. their story is basically a modern day fairy tale: they met and fell in love on a farm in tuscany where christopher was learning how to raise livestock, the art of butchery and salumi production and sarah, who studied clinical nutrition and completed the natural foods chef’s program at the natural gourmet institute in manhattan, was cooking, learning about and enjoying italian food culture. they moved back to toronto together where they’ve carved out this little spot for themselves to share their love and passion for italian food culture with the neighbourhood.
i can’t wait to visit again (and bring everyone i know), to talk about our love of slow food, and to one day call everyone who works there a friend. get to know for yourself this wonderful couple below, and please do yourself a favour and visit their shop, eat a porchetta sandwich, and feel at home (and call me up when you do ’cause i’ll come with!)
1. tell me a little about yourself and why you started alimentari?
christopher grew up living in italy for years at a time, which is probably the reason why he lives and breathes everything italian (although his parents are from Ireland and Holland). he cooks to relax and loves to collect everything from sneakers to business cards. (keep in mind, this is his wife writing…)
i, sarah (said wife), am an overachiever that – upon meeting christopher while traveling in italy – realized that i needed a dose of good food, a creative partner in life and in the business i planned to start, and a new country to call home (canada, that is).
alimentari is a combination of places christopher grew up shopping at in italy, ones we have visited together in our travels, and our home. we wanted to encourage the european style of shopping for food daily, when it is fresh, and relationships built between the shopkeepers and staff and the customers. in italy, this is the norm.
2. what is your personal food philosophy, and where do you draw your inspiration from?
simple, seasonal, and balanced are the three elements upon which we base every dish at alimentari. When the ingredients are in season, they are most flavorful and nutritious, so they don’t need much fussing with in the kitchen. we believe that a healthy diet and lifestyle include pork fat, fresh pasta, and red wine, balanced with tons of veggies, whole grains, and legumes.
as I am sure you would imagine, we look to italy for inspiration, but also to the farmers’ markets, here in Toronto. we follow an italian food philosophy of seasonality and locality but consider eating locally-grown foods as italian as it gets.
3. where are your products sourced from – is everything from ontario or do you have products imported from Italy as well?
we always look to ontario, first, then canada, for ingredients. with that said, some items cannot be grown or produced in canada and, in those cases, we search for suppliers whom source directly from Italy. parmiggiano reggiano, san marzano tomatoes, pesto genovese…there’s a reason these italian foods are famous: they are highly regulated to ensure consistency and the utmost deliciousness.
4. what was your favourite family recipe?
christopher grew up eating italian food, IN Italy, so – of course – he remembers shopping with his mother for ingredients at the market for making pasta dinners. one of his favorites – which has become a hit amongst customers at alimentari – is a green tomato sauce for pasta. it is made at the beginning and end of the tomato season when the tomatoes are not yet (or never turned) ripe. it tastes like summer.
my mom cooked dinner for us every night and turned to martha stewart for inspiration. we ate a lot of noodles too, but usually with newman’s own italian dressing…mmm, honestly, it is delicious. i also loved cajun catfish for dinner, when we would help make foil packets of seasoned fish with onions and tomatoes. cheap and easy!
5. if you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
christopher would eat cacio e pepe for every meal, if he could. it is a roman-style pasta dish, prepared simply with pecorino romano cheese and lots of black pepper.
i love rice. and leftovers. give me a bowl of steamed basmati and a fridge that needs cleaning out, and i am as happy as a clam.