Chef Michele Pizzulo grew up in the town of Vallata, in the province of Avellino, Italy — a place where everything either comes out of your own garden or from a local shop. This is where Pizzulo discovered his love for cooking.
“Growing up in Italy, it’s a simple life. I grew up in the country … my mother, she has a big garden, and a few animals,” says Pizzulo.
“My mother and grandmother would cook everything from scratch. There wasn’t anything you buy at a grocery store.”
Pizzulo studied culinary arts an hour away from his home for five years before working in a pizzeria in Northern Italy.
After working in Italy for a while, Pizzulo began taking his talents to different parts of the world. Pizzulo has worked in London and Australia, in Michelin star restaurants, and he has even worked alongside Gordon Ramsay.
“When I watch those shows … everything he said, I knew it before he said it,” says Pizzulo who stresses that a good foundation of skills is critical for success as a chef.
“You’ve been working for so long for not just him, but other great chefs. You know the base.”
Pizzulo has always looked to continually challenge himself with cooking. He recalls how he found work in Australia.
“I walked into the one of the best restaurants in the city and the chef there, we happened to work in the same place in London, and he said ‘okay, you can start tomorrow,’” says Pizzulo.
Pizzulo moved to Calgary in 2013 — the city is where his wife was born and raised. Now, he’s using his Italian heritage and experiences as a chef to bring authentic Italian food to the city.
Pizzulo began working at, Teatro on 8th Avenue that same year, and he became a well-respected chef during his time there.
“He was always a pleasure to work with. He was very inspirational, motivated you know, pleasant,” says chef John Michael Macneil, who was executive chef at Teatro for years.
Pizzulo worked as the daytime sous chef for Macneil. He took care of specials, accepted all orders and made sure everything was clean. Pizzulo also started the development of the charcuterie program at Teatro which involved curing, slicing and dry aging a variety of different meats.
Pizzulo got a lot of freedom of creativity in his time at Teatro. Eggplant parmigiana, a family recipe of his, is still on the menu today.
“I really like authentic things. I can tell people have put heart into, and nothing Michele does is disingenuous.” – Jason Barton-Browne
“The beauty of working in Teatro for me, I had my freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom of creation.”
Pizzulo now has free rein over his work as a personal chef doing private dinners and hands-on cooking classes.
“I’ll shop for all the ingredients, and then everyone has some ingredients to prepare. I’ll teach how to cook, the roots of the dish and why it’s done that way. It’s more like a class.”
Having freedom with his food wasn’t the only motivation for Pizzulo to become a full time personal chef. Pizzulo’s two kids were also a big factor in his decision.
“I had been asked to be chef de cuisine at Teatro, but I didn’t take the job because I have two little kids …my kids are more important to me than having the title of chef de cuisine.”
Pizzulo also runs his food truck, Gustoso Italian Street Food during the summer. Pizzulo’s dinner menu includes dishes such as beef short ribs, lobster tagliatelle and vanilla crème brulée.
“It’s good because I can make my own stuff. I have my own freedom, and it makes me happy.”
Italy is home to some of the world’s best food, and the place that first started Pizzulo’s love for cooking. Like in his hometown of Vallata, Pizzulo he tries to use fresh, organic ingredients in his dishes.
Italian style cooking is a part of Pizzulo’s identity and it shines through his cooking.
“He’s very Italian, I always liked getting his opinion on some of my ideas ... if he would shrug his shoulders or wince, I’d say ‘okay I won’t do that.’ I don’t want to offend an Italian with my ideas,” says chef Jason Barton-Browne who worked with Pizzulo at Teatro and is now the executive chef at Hayloft in Airdrie.
Unlike in Italy, Pizzulo can’t grow his own ingredients all year, so he has to find other ways to continue using fresh ingredients in his food. As the seasons change, so does Pizzulo’s menu which depends on what he can get locally.
“Whatever’s available at the market or the organic stores. Usually for protein, I’ll source it directly from a farmer.”
Barton-Browne has a lot of praise for Pizzulo’s food truck.
“I actually had one of everything … at the time it was salt fish fritters, a simple flatbread and a meatball poutine. His food has always been good.”
Pizzulo’s food truck aims to bring real Italian comfort food to the streets of Calgary.
“I think it’s unique cause he’s doing quite authentic type things … the things he’s doing, I would expect to see at markets in Italy,” says Barton-Browne.
Pizzulo work has earned some high praise from his old coworkers.
“I think what he’s doing is amazing. Personally, I really like authentic things. I can tell people have put heart into, and nothing Michele does is disingenuous,” says Barton-Browne.
“In this industry, I find that there are some people that do stand out, become chefs … become true leaders. And you know, he was one of those,” says Macneil.
You can catch Gustoso Italian Street Food roaming the streets of Calgary during the summer, and you can learn more about Pizzulo’s cooking classes, or have him come over to make a three course meal by visiting his website.
- By Jelmer Derksen