Liliana Piazza definitely knows a thing or two about entertaining. After a short but successful career as an opera singer, she stepped off the international stage to return to her roots and take over the reins of her family's Ottawa Bagelshop with her husband, Matthew Troncale, also a trained musician.
One of the city's most popular gourmet food emporiums for more than 30 years, the Ottawa Bagelshop was founded by Liliana's father Vince, modelled after his brother-in-law's internationally famous St-Viateur bagel shop in Montreal. While the parallels between opera and gourmet food are subtle, she says that her entertaining style is definitely influenced by her life experiences. Although managing a business and caring for their children - Oliver, 2, and baby Ophelia - keeps her very busy, Liliana loves to entertain. She admits that her passion for opera is too much of a distraction to share with her guests, so Matthew's go-to rock music takes centre stage when they host friends and family.
WAS IT A DIFFICULT DECISION TO RETIRE FROM SINGING? No - it was a choice made for love. I was based in Pittsburgh and pregnant with our first. Matthew and I realized we wanted to raise our children close to family just as my father Vince was ready to reduce his workload at the store. It was the right time to come home.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE FOOD BUSINESS? I love being able to help people with their entertaining, thanks to the range and calibre of products we offer. Gourmet food is excellent for wintertime as it tends to be rich and filling, perfect for warming everyone up. For an après-ski buffet, I would offer such things as our scratch-made chicken or beef bouillon along with a platter of assorted cheeses - some of my favourites include Balderson cheddar, Saint-André or La Sauvagine, Bleu d'Élizabeth, Oka, Sainte Maure - and pâté served with True Loaf bread, nuts, and dried figs. Also a smoked salmon platter (smoked salmon, cream cheese, lemon wedges and capers) looks as great as it tastes.
DO YOU ENJOY COOKING FOR PEOPLE? It can be tempting just to grab prepared items from the store, but I am sometimes inspired to cook from scratch. When I do, it has to be with the best ingredients possible. I like making a strata, featuring top-quality Gruyère and prosciutto. If you start with good ingredients, a dish will taste so much better.
DO YOU ENTERTAIN BASED ON A THEME? I am intrigued by people who can pull that off, but it's not really my style. We do tap into our roots, though. Matthew is from the Southern U.S. so we'll sometimes do pulled pork or authentic barbecue.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR INDULGENCES? I have a huge weakness for Ma's Kitchen Crunch - a nut and chocolate candy - but don't really entertain with it because I simply cannot share it. My other go-to treat is smoked salmon. It's so versatile and can work in different capacities for brunch, lunch or dinner.
DOES MUSIC PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE WHEN YOU ENTERTAIN? For me, it's all about the food and the company; music is a secondary element. I tend to leave it up to Matthew to choose the music. With his background as a drummer he favours classic rock, but we also like Mahler's symphonies for a dinner party. We have a very eclectic music collection and tend to choose based on our mood, rather than trying to use music to create a certain atmosphere. But we don't play opera because I find it too distracting - I get so into it that I would ignore our guests!