Time to Recognize Some Local Industry Icons

April 18, 2009

One of the reasons I started the BKB blog, aside from the obvious self promotion, was to try and shine a light on local independent businesses in the Windsor area like the Black Kettle Bistro that work hard day to day to bring you something unique and of quality. These kinds of businesses enrich the community and create a pulse for the city. When it comes to the restaurant business in Windsor we haven’t really seen too much attention paid to local enduring chefs and restaurateurs. Ted Whipp is an outstanding resource and we are lucky that someone with such a passion for food is writing the column for the Windsor Star but because of constraints and limitations we don’t get to dive to deep into any story or personality. I, along with countless others, have been lucky to learn the craft of cooking in so many great kitchens across this city. There has been a great culinary tradition in Windsor. Immigration and multiculturalism have created an epicurean dream city.

There has recently been a changing of the guard of sorts. We’re coming into a new era of new restaurants and chefs looking to continue that great tradition laid down in this city. Many of the old classic places are closing and chefs that influenced countless others are retiring. Underneath them is a slew of chefs that are maturing and showing great resilience as they grow older and leave behind the naive enthusiasm of their twenties and early thirties and enter into, dare I say it, middle age. Middle age, career wise. I reluctantly place myself in this category. One local chef and restaurateur in specific has shown that his unique approach to both cooking and business not only works but works well. Chef Nick Politi of Ristorante Nico on Erie St has become one of Windsor’s premier chef and restaurateurs.nicoThe accolades and accomplishments are too long to list. really. the one i will mention however is that he has garnered the “where to eat in Canada” award for the last 10 years. To say that the last decade has been a difficult one for the hospitality industry is a huge understatement. Not only has he survived but he continues to flourish on the corner of Erie and Elsmere. I had the great luck and privilege to work there in its inception. I was his first official sous chef. It’s a time I look back on with extreme fondness. The simplicity and humility he brings to his cooking is something that has stayed with me and helped influence the way I cook more than any other. The restaurant has always looked great and has always dedicated itself to the highest quality ingredients and techniques. there are no corners cut and no detail unnoticed. many chefs are known for their excessive ego and desire for attention. Nick has neither. he gladly shares the accolades with his staff. A testament to his business savvy and solid character is the fact that his staff stays. He has had employees for years and years. There are people who work there that worked there when I did over 11 years ago. His business model is simple. Offer exceptional food in a great environment and give great unpretentious, honest, good service. It works. It may be the best restaurant in the city. It is the best Italian restaurant in the city, probably the best Italian restaurant between Chicago and Toronto. Tall praise, yes, but well deserved.

We don’t often realize or think about who helped shape the Windsor dining scene. I think its time people started to acknowledge what we have among us. When chefs talk of their heroes and mention their influences it may seem odd to hear the names of local small business owners among them but that’s exactly where we have come to and we should stand proud. The list of people that have worked at Nico’s, for example, that have gone on to open their own successful restaurant is impressive. Rosario Monteleone (Foia), Filip Rocca (Mezzo), Enzo Mancuso (Tutto & Mancuso’s), and I humbly include myself (Vivo & BKB) on that list. Nick was also half of the original cooking team of Il Gabbiano. Nick later opened NOI with Jay and Gino and helped shape the menu and make it the great spot it is today with Jay and Gino at the helm. Many people are weary of trying out a place like Nico simply because it may be too expensive for them. While it is high end fine dining, Nick also offers an affordable, yet equally as delicious, lunch menu. Either way, if you get the chance try and make it in to Nico soon. you won’t regret it.