As long as he’s got his friends, family and especially his two little girls by his side, Gino Marghella loves to hang out in the kitchen.
“(The girls) love it. They watch me throw up the pizza dough, then stretch it out, then they get out all their little toppings and make their own pie,” Marghella, manager of the Italian Centre Shop Calgary, says with a smile. “There’s something wonderful about cooking with your family. Food brings you together, and it’s a great experience. I watch my wife with my children in the kitchen cooking and laughing, passing on traditions, and it gives me a whole new reason to fall in love with her all over again.”
When you grow up in the garden and the kitchen, it’s easy to find your niche behind the crack team at Alberta’s Italian Centre Shops (a staple in Edmonton for 60 years, and recently opened in Calgary in 2015). The bustling shops are known not only for imported European flavours and brands but also for supporting an array of local, fresh suppliers.
Marghella has been with the Italian Centre Shop since he was a teenager. The first generation Canadian (of Italian heritage) began working there in high school. He’s risen through the ranks to become manager of the YYC store, and Margehella says he still loves coming to work each day. He comes by his culinary training honestly, growing up with Italian parents who taught him everything from how to make wine and tomato sauce to how to cultivate and preserve fresh olives. We checked in with Marghella this summer to find out what’s cooking!
Q: Gino, you are a born and raised Edmontonian, but you came to Calgary a few years ago to help open and run the YYC Italian Centre Shop (a cultural institution for Albertans now in both cities). What’s the move been like, how does Calgary’s food scene compare to that of Edmonton’s?
A: Both cities have a cool food scene, and over the years with more people travelling abroad, we are starting to see products from all over Europe become household names. Both cities are full of passionate foodies, which is great! The chefs in each city are setting the bar and informing trends, Edmontonians and Calgarians love their homegrown restaurants and are eager to keep up with what chefs in the area are doing and cooking.
Q: You have been with the Italian Centre Shop since you were 17-years-old! What is it about this place and this career that has kept you passionate for so many years?
A: I was just a teenager, and I was looking for a job my grandfather said, “go work for Mr. Spinelli,” (owner of The Italian Centre Shop in Edmonton) “he is a good man he will teach you a lot.” Well, they called me for a job June 24, 1999. I was excited. I wasn’t a foodie at that time, to be honest, I didn’t even know what Bocconcini was. I grew up cooking with traditional Italian items such as mortadella and prosciutto. We made our own sausages. We had a garden and I grew up with all that, but I didn’t become a foodie until I started at the store.
I loved the customers, and I love the people I work with. That’s the crux of what keeps me here, helping people find and discover new flavours and get excited about cooking and food.
The deli is my favourite, you’re in front of 50 or more people some days all surrounding you, and they’re all looking at you, and they’re interested and engaged in what’s happening behind the counter. It’s like a theatre in some ways, and it can be inspiring.
The Spinelli family sent me to Toronto in my early days and I saw Bocconcini being made for the first time, it blew my mind. I didn’t expect it to turn out to be a career. I just loved it. I could stay at the store for 15 hours and not get tired of it. It’s a natural fit.
Q: What kinds of foods and dishes were popular in your home growing up and what do you love to make now with your own family?
A: My family was very strong in Italian heritage. It was all boys in my family, only brothers, and my dad and grandfather lead the traditions with food by teaching us how to make things like sausage, wine and bread. Pasta, pasta Frittatas, homemade olives, it was all part of our upbringing. It just felt like the normal things all families do. We had a garden and food was part of our family dynamic. I didn’t really get passionate about food or call myself a foodie until I got married. My wife was also passionate about cooking, and we love hosting people. I love experimenting with meats and cheeses. And we cook all the time with the children, homemade pasta, pizza, you name it. Cooking is by far a wonderful way to spend quality time with your family. Everyone can be involved and get excited about some aspect of it, you have a fun conversation while working together and at the end, you get to sit down as a family around the table and enjoy the fruits of your labour. It’s one of our favourite things to do with our kids.
Q: What kinds of cheese do you almost always stock at home?
Reggiano, Piave Vecchio, Bellavitano Merlot cheese, Swiss Gruyere, Kaltbach… Manchego, Appenzeller AOP (good with fruit)
You have to have all the good ones, just in case! They’re all very versatile and Appenzeller, man that’s great with fruit. Switzerland Cheeses are indeed just as important to my pantry as Italian. They’re the world’s great cheeses.
Q: When it comes to helping customers pick out appropriate Switzerland cheeses for their various recipes and palates, what do you tell them?
A: I try to start them off with something a little different than what they’re used to, but I always as them what they’re using it for — pasta, a cheese plate — that’s the first step. And I give them samples; you have to taste cheese to know if it’s right for you. I would rather them taste cheeses than sell them something they haven’t tasted and had them go home and end up hating it! You want them to walk away feeling excited about the choice and what they’re taking home to serve.
With Swiss cheeses, I enjoy eating raclette on asparagus melted; Appenzeller is wonderful served with fresh fruit, figs, grapes and an excellent white wine; Gruyere Cave Aged Cheese goes best with red wine and a nice fig jam or red jelly.
Q: Why are people so passionate about cheese? What makes it such a polarizing, yet exciting food topic for the average foodie (i.e., some people love certain types of cheeses and hate others, but everyone seems to have an opinion).
A: I think sometimes we have preconceived ideas about what something tastes like, or if we believe that it’s yucky. For the longest time, I didn’t like Blue cheeses or St George (Taleggio). I just couldn’t get my head around them. I was like “what the heck is this?!” Then, Edmonton based celebrity chef Daniel Costa showed us how to do it with honey… well, I was blown away, I love that cheese now. It’s our preconceived ideas of what this cheese is going to taste as that holds us back. Think of it this way, a person may not like tomatoes, but they might like bruschetta. As I grow older I try more things and I’m more enticed to try different things… Keep an open mind; you never know what kind of taste combination is going to be pleasing to your palate in an unexpected way.
Q: What do you say to people who are convinced that dairy or cheese is “bad for them”? What are some of the health benefits of cheese that people don’t consider when they’re trying to eat clean?
A: Cheese is good for you in moderation. I actually wish people would see that. Tons of cheeses are gluten-free, naturally lactose-free and high in vitamins and protein. Everything in moderation, that’s the key.
Q: If you had to give up one or the other, chocolate or cheese… which would it be and why?
A: Chocolate for sure. Are you kidding me? I can’t live without cheese.