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The Helmsmen Series - A conversation with Daniel Costa

He is a food enthusiast, a NAIT alumni and Founder of Corso 32, Uccellino and Bar Bricco. In our latest installment of The Helmsmen series we interviewed Daniel Costa, a man who has helped put Edmonton on the map, offering some of the best Italian cuisine a person can easily overindulge in.
We caught up with him before the sold out dinner rush at his newest restaurant, Uccellino. His restaurants have been voted among the best in the county by Maclean’s, enRoute and Western Living - to name just a few.
During our interview, we had the opportunity to learn more about Daniel, where his influences come from, and why he believes in Edmonton.  
 
Helm:  Thank you for joining us Daniel. You’re originally from Devon, Alberta. This is a drastic contrast compared to the style of your restaurants and the food you cook.

Being from a small town, what inspired you step beyond your rural upbringing?

DC: I was raised outside of Devon on an acreage.  We had large gardens and my father taught me how to harvest all of our vegetables.  Looking back, I realize that at a very young age I learned the philosophy of farm to table eating. Although I loved my childhood, I never appreciated living on an acreage; I always wanted to be in the city. Throughout all of it, I now realize how important that rural lifestyle was in shaping me and the success I have today.

Helm:  Can you tell us a little bit about your cooking philosophy?  And how it has helped or hindered your ability to grow and develop new restaurant concepts?
DC: I try and keep my cooking philosophies simple. I don't like to take much flavor out of a dish. I always look for ingredients to remove from the dish vs adding to it - to keep it as pure and simple as possible, highlighting my specific focus in the recipe. Secondly, I always try to use what’s in season and at its highest quality.  Both of these philosophies are mirrored everyday in Italy when they prepare dishes.
Helm:  Since you opened Corso 32, Edmonton has changed a lot. How do you think that has impacted your business?
DC: The city has grown and evolved a lot since I originally opened. When I first opened Corso 32 all I really wanted was a small successful restaurant - I was hoping to just make it. It wasn’t until I noticed that the food was in high demand that I considered doing other concepts. I watched Edmontonians embrace other new restaurant ideas, so when the spaces that now house Bar Bricco and Uccellino became available, I jumped at the opportunity.
Helm: You have often said you love to cook (and create) all day. When you’re not in your kitchens, where would people find you, and what would you be doing?
DC: When I am not cooking in one of my restaurants, you can find me at home cooking for my son. I spend a lot of time with my him. Currently, I live between the restaurants, spending time with my son and travelling to Italy. I am always trying to eat and drink as much as I can in Italy - trying to learn as much as I can from them.
Helm:  In a kitchen environment; fashion doesn’t really have a place.  When you step out of the kitchen what do you enjoy wearing?
DC: I am all over the place. I like quality; I love wearing common project sneakers, simple denim and sweaters. Complex layers don’t really work for me, I try to keep it clean.
Helm:  Who have you worked with in the past or present that you really draw inspiration from, whether that’s in your cooking, personal style or business philosophy?
DC: The majority of my mentors are in the cookbooks I study. I spent the early part of my career working for Peter Jackson of Jack’s Grill, he was a great mentor and taught me a lot. My father was also a huge mentor for me as well… my morals came from my parents,  because of that they have had an enormous impact on my life.
Helm:  How do you envision the future of Edmonton's restaurant scene?
DC: There seems to be a lot of momentum in the city right now and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s very exciting to see individual chefs opening small interesting restaurants. So as long as Edmontonians continue to support independent restaurants, this trend should continue.
Helm:  You’ve grown a local business from nothing to employing more than 60 people. What are your greatest joys/challenges employing a team of that size?
DC: The most rewarding part of this job is seeing people become better cooks. I love seeing the staff I work with grow and flourish in our restaurants. We have created an environment that is positive, rewarding and a space where people are continually learning.  One member of our team started with us while he was still in culinary school. Now he’s running one of our restaurants! It’s this kind of stuff that makes me exceptionally proud.
Helm:  You, your family and your staff travel back to Italy often, which regions of that country inspire you the most?
DC: I can’t say any one region inspires me more than other, although I continually find myself drawn back to Rome. A lot of people are shocked by that because they think of Rome as a tourist trap, but the city has some amazing restaurants once you get to know your way around. Each region in the country has a specialty which you can draw culinary inspiration from.
Helm:  You’re married now and have a young son. How is your son’s Italian? Is he embracing your cooking?
DC: It's coming. My father likes to speak to him in Italian, and I try to say small words to him so he can start to understand. He can count now and says things like “Ciao Bella”
Daniel's philosophies in the kitchen also translate to his personal style - keeping it simple. So this Luigi Bianchi navy sport jacket and a fresh white dress shirt were perfect.
Helm: So rumor has it you’re a movie fanatic. What was the last movie you saw? And what’s your favorite of all time?
DC: I love film. The last movie I saw was Mother, and I loved it, which I took some flak for.  I posted that I loved it on social media and I had numerous people comment “what’s wrong with you?!” But I thought it was brilliant. You have to keep an open mind when watching movies; it allows you to analyze your beliefs as well as the movie itself afterwards. I am obsessed with Italian neorealism films from the 40’s and 50’s. My favorite movie of all time falls into that genre, L’avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni from 1960.  He is brilliant; he’s the poet of film.
We had a question that we forgot to ask Daniel during the interview. We had to know what this man's guilty pleasure was when it came to food! We were expecting something crazy like Kraft Dinner or the odd McDonald's meal. Nope. After a brief exchange of text messages - we had our answer! Drumroll please......... it's Swedish Berries and Wine Gums folks!!
Have a look at the full length video here.
 

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