When Daniel Costa entered the culinary arts program at NAIT in 2002, he was dismayed to discover that it taught a very classical, very French style of cooking – a style at odds with the free-flowing Italian methods he grew up with.
One day his assignment was to make a risotto – a classic Italian dish and one that Costa knew inside and out. “It’s supposed to be runny,” he says. “Almost like a stew. You lift it up and it falls off your spoon.”
As he waited to have his risotto approved, Costa worried that it was drying out. When his teacher finally tasted it, however, he complained that the dish was too wet.
“I lost it,” Costa remembers with a grin. “What the fuck do you mean it’s too wet? It’s too dry!” He took the bowl around to other teachers, looking for a second opinion.
Now 26, Costa has spent his young career trying to broaden the horizons of the Edmonton food scene, writing menus for hip food and drink joints, such as Red Star Pub’s tapas menu and past Da Capo offerings. Now, with the opening of his own downtown restaurant, Corso 32, located at 10345 Jasper Ave., he finally has the chance to do it his own way.
The Look: Cheap Monday shirt and A.P.C. cardigan from gravitypope Tailored Goods.
Midway through culinary school, you took a trip to your family’s village in Italy and came back a completely different chef. What happened there?
I saw where the true stuff was really coming from. I worked in a bakery where the oven was heated by hazelnut shells. I heard the tales of each dish – why this is called that. Going porcini mushroom hunting with my uncle. Things like that blew my mind. I grew this different appreciation for what an ingredient was.
That’s what the Italians do best. They don’t fuck around. [They say,] “This is good. We’ve tried every single different way to make this dish and we’re not going to change it.”
You grew up near Devon, Alta., with an Italian father and German mother. Was food a big part of your childhood?
Very much so. I grew up making wine with my father and growing our own food -taking it from seed to the table. That’s how it all started. We used to always go to Italy, and I used to cook with my grandma. I was always surrounded by food, and it was never something that was rushed. It was a celebration every single time you ate.
I remember I used to skip school to watch The Urban Peasant. In junior high I had a big stack of cookbooks, all the time, next to my bed. My sister and her friends would spend the night and I’d wake up in the morning and make everybody breakfast.
You’ve worked at a number of different restaurants around the city. Has starting your own always been part of the plan?
Even before I enrolled in NAIT, it was all about me getting my own place. No partnership. I’m not the sole owner, but the sole operator. I make all the decisions. Everything looks the way that I want it. And now here I am.
Is there a strong community of chefs and restaurateurs in Edmonton?
Actually, I think the community is lacking very much. If you go to a city like New York or Toronto, there’s this underground industry scene of cooks and waiters. That’s one of the things we’re going to do at Corso – once a month have industry people come together, and we’re going to make a very inexpensive family dinner. We’ll sit around and eat things like tripe and rabbit livers. Things that cooks enjoy. We can come together and talk about food and create a buzz.
Is the problem that food professionals don’t talk to each other or that they see each other as competition?
A lot of cooks don’t stay in the industry for long enough. A lot of cooks will go in and get out. I don’t stay in too much contact with a lot of the chefs that I worked with at NAIT, so I don’t know if many of them are still cooking.
A lot of people give up. They think being a chef is glamorous. It’s not. It’s a ton of work and a ton of sweat. You’re sore when you’re done. A lot of people cut themselves really bad. I’ve hurt myself many times – every cook has. I’ve got burns all over my wrists. It’s demanding.
Does Edmonton offer you any unique opportunities, in terms of what kind of food you’ll be making?
We’re doing Italian methods, but using a lot of Alberta product – a lot of juniper, a lot of chokecherries. My sous-chef [Ben Chalmers] is phenomenal at curing his own meats. I’m going to get pine needles and make a martini with them. We’re going to try to push the envelope, and I think we’re at a good time to do that.
What’s your kitchen at home like?
I love entertaining at my house. I’ll generally have a group of people over at my house once a week, with a lot of wine. I like making big, lavish dinners, with lots of flavours.
But for me, personally, when I come home to eat? No. It’s very, very quick. I don’t make myself Pop-Tarts or something like that. Maybe I’ll wake up in the morning and fry myself an egg and be running out of the house with it.
Do you think about your personal style a lot?
No. I wake up and throw it on. I do read some fashion magazines, and I’m very conscious of what’s going on around me. I go on The Sartorialist [website] quite often.
I’ll put it this way: I like to shop. I spend too much money on clothes. I get myself in debt sometimes.
How would you characterize your style?
What’s your favourite piece of clothing you own?
I have this beautiful A.P.C. red cardigan. It’s fucking awesome, man. It’s got these great little brown buttons. It’s brilliant.
From what kinds of looks do you take your inspiration?
Classic European clothing, for me, is the best style in the world. It’s very clean, very simple. I know a lot of people who can really pull off bracelets – it just doesn’t work for me. I like to have a good pair of jeans, a great pair of shoes, a collared shirt, a good belt.
The Look: A.P.C. pants and button-up shirt, and Nice Collective jacket from gravitypope Tailored Goods; t-shirt from American Apparel.
Are you a cologne person?
I wear it every once in a while. I’m wearing this cologne [Acqua Di Parma] right now from Capri, just outside of Naples. It’s an almond cologne.
What about other accessories?
This watch I’m wearing is one of my favourite things I own. It’s Alessi, which is a kitchen brand. Alessi makes some of the most amazing kitchen gadgets and accessories you can find, and I found it in a watch.