Jun. 27, 2012 - Issue #871: Edmonton 2012
Let the ingredients shine
Italian restaurant takes advantage of Alberta's bounty
18352 Lessard Rd
Vivo Ristorante splashed onto Edmonton's culinary landscape in the summer of 2011, filling a gastronomic void in the city's far west end. This chic and sleek eatery boasts a family-style dining room dressed in black and silver, and features an impressive open kitchen that jumps with scents and sizzles. Manager Gregg Kenney and NAIT-trained head chef Michael Hassall enjoy a quiet moment in Vivo's board room, just steps away from pre-supper preparations, and reflect on the staggering planning that was central to Vivo's creation.
"A friend of mine is a landlord and he made us aware of this location, which was originally a video store. We liked the size and the demographic in this part of the city," Kenney explains. "Although we opened officially last July, we were intentionally low key. I don't think we could have handled it if we'd gone all glitz and glamour. We just opened the doors and went for it." Hassall echoes Kenney's sentiments and notes a steady increase in diners since Vivo came to be.
Vivo bills itself as Italian, and fits into several genres, including fine dining and family-style. Courses are categorized under Italian headers that correspond to appetizers, mains and desserts. Portions are intentionally large; Kenney and Hassall encourage diners to order several mains and share—hence, "family-style."
"A lot of our menu comes from the original chef who was with us," explains Hassall. "And a lot of it was inspired by Mercato in Calgary. With our menu, we looked at the practicality of what was seasonal coupled with customer feedback." Hassall acknowledges a plethora of constructive ideas from both customers and kitchen staff. "Everybody has good ideas," he relates, "and changes happen out of necessity with reference to speed, productivity, and ingredient availability." In addition to his compatriots, Hassall draws inspiration from cookbooks. "I love looking at picture books for ideas and then bouncing ideas off others," he admits.
Fresh, local and high-quality ingredients are imperative to the success of Vivo—or of any restaurant, for that matter. "We cannot cut corners. Our tomatoes come from Gull Valley Farms in Lacombe, for example, and some of our fish come from Lesser Slave Lake, and their flavour is second to none," he explains. Kenney adds that not every ingredient on Vivo's menu is local. Many of the restaurant's cured meats and cheeses are imported from Italy, a nod to the country's incomparable culinary tradition. Hassall notes, "As much as you want to write a menu and bring in all the ingredients, you have to do it the other way around. Look at what you do have and build from there." He adds, "The whole concept of Italian food is to let the ingredients shine. They should shine and speak for themselves. Alberta offers such a bounty for this."
Indeed, the bounties of both Alberta and Italy intertwine at Vivo and emerge in incarnations both traditional, such as Caprese salad with vibrant tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella, as well as inventive, such as a decadent twist on macaroni and cheese that features cannellini beans, pink peppercorns and sumptuous mascarpone. Kenney and Hassall both hope that Vivo will follow the precedent set by its name which, translated literally, means, "I live" or "I am alive." Hassall states, "We're always raising our standards and building a following. Things are awesome now but we want to look back in a year and be even better."
Kenney agrees and adds, "We've had a lot of firsts so far."
Hassall implores diners, no matter what part of the city they inhabit, to make the drive to Vivo. "It's relaxing. Come and hang out," he encourages, "Because all you need in life is good company, good wine, and the other part of the equation is good food." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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