Robert Palarchio definitely knows his way around the kitchen. Born into a restaurant family in Sault Ste. Marie, he recalls his mother pulling up a stool and insisting he get busy cracking eggs for breakfast when he was just four years old.
After working in his family’s restaurant, he moved to Ottawa in the mid-80s and cooked at the Ritz restaurants on Nepean and Clarence Streets. For more than a decade, he’s been a key part of the Fratelli team. Despite his long tenure in the food business, he had to wait 20 years to create his dream kitchen in his Stittsville home, but his patience and planning have definitely paid off.
DOES FOOD PLAY A KEY ROLE IN YOUR LIFESTYLE? Absolutely. My wife Brigitte and I love to entertain, and on weekends we fight to be first into the kitchen. She is a great baker and I love to cook savoury dishes so we have a lot of fun dreaming up menus together. Our children, Louisa (22) and Marino (19) enjoy having friends over for meals as well.
WHAT KINDS OF FOOD DO YOU ENJOY PREPARING? Brigitte and I love Italian food so I tend to cook on regional themes. We love Calabrian dishes, and right now I am on a Tuscan kick, preparing lots of risottos and using great elements like truffles and good olive oils.
WHY WAS RENOVATING YOUR KITCHEN IMPORTANT TO YOU? It was really about functionality rather than appearance. Whether I’m cooking for my family or a crowd, I want everything to flow smoothly in the kitchen. Ours is a compact space so efficiency is key.
WHAT WAS ON YOUR WISH LIST?
I knew I needed a better storage configuration and enough space to have all my favourite equipment and ingredients close at hand. I also wanted higher cupboards to give me more useable space underneath for countertop appliances.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU’D DO IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT? I’d add in a wood-fired pizza oven, integrated right into the kitchen.
WHAT ARE THE AESTHETIC IMPROVEMENTS THAT YOU LOVE? The barnboard-finished cupboards are perfect. Also, I now get to enjoy cherished tools like my pepper grinder collection and the jug my grandmother brought over from Italy. While I do use these items all the time, I wanted open shelving so they could be both accessible and on display like works of art.
WHAT ROLE DID YOUR DESIGNER JENNIFER MCGAHAN PLAY? She talked a lot with me about the functionality and how I tend to work in the kitchen. Then she helped move the project forward beyond what I originally thought I wanted. She translated my wish list into a workable plan and drafted the design using AutoCAD software, which really gave me a great perspective and helped me visualize it much better. She brought us together with cabinetmaker Bill Riseborough of Constructive Behaviour and we’re so pleased with the finished product.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A HOME COOK PLANNING A KITCHEN RENO? A customized kitchen is worthwhile if you spend a lot of time in there. Work in your kitchen for a while to get a good feel for how the space should function. Be sure to get professional advice from a designer and buy the best you can afford in terms of appliances. Think about how you cook and try to have everything within reach of your work stations and make sure you plan multiple work areas if you enjoy having others in the kitchen at the same time.
Robert Palarchio’s Fresh Shrimp and Fig Antipasto
Ingredients 2 teaspoons (10 g) butter 2 medium shallots, diced 2 garlic cloves, diced White pepper 5 ounces (150 g) mild pancetta, diced 3/4 cup (185 mL) white wine (Chardonnay) 12 large fresh shrimp 6 fresh figs, quartered 2 cups fresh arugula, washed and dried 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Pepperoncini Calabrese (pickled hot peppers)* Olive oil Truffle oil * Balsamic glaze Black pepper 2 scallions (green onions), finely minced * Available in Ottawa at La Bottega Nicastro Method ln a large frying pan, heat butter, shallots and garlic. Add 3 dashes of white pepper and the pancetta and sauté, stirring often. Once the mixture is turning golden brown, deglaze the pan by adding the white wine and continuing to cook while the liquid evaporates. After 2 minutes, add the shrimp. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes then add the quartered figs and let them wilt in the pan. Remove the pan from the heat; fold in the Pepperoncini along with a good drizzle of olive oil. Place the shrimp and fig mixture on a bed of fresh arugula (on a board, platter or 4-6 individual serving plates) and drizzle with a small amount of balsamic glaze and truffle oil. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper. Garnish with minced fresh scallions and serve. Serves 4 -6.