Category: Community Features

Get The Dish: Massimo Capra

Celebrity Chef, Massimo Capra, reminds me of my childhood where Sunday dinners included nostalgic tales of my parent’s early lives in northern Italy – stories told over a golden, piping-hot plate of Risotto alla Milanese. As I sit next to the chef at his critically acclaimed Toronto restaurant, Mistura, he vividly describes the Bolognese tradition of making Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce.  My senses are so heightened that I can almost taste the creamy layers of this northern delicacy.

The successful restaurateur and co-host of the Food Network’s Restaurant Make-0verand Gourmet Escapes landed on Canadian soil from his native Italy thirty years ago only to find a country relatively oblivious to the enormity of authentic Italian cuisine.

‘I arrived from Cremona, an area near Milan, in 1982.  Most Italians here were southerners who immigrated in the forties and fifties. The culture had already blended Canadian customs in their cooking’,he says, adding ‘my northern background was so completely different’.

Before Chef Capra’s arrival Torontonians had a century-old, stereotypical perception of Italian food – generous portions of pasta with rich tomato sauce, hearty calzones and assorted pizzas.  Since then, he along with other noted master chefs, have expanded the Italian cooking repertoire by introducing northern staples such as Polenta alla Griglia (grilled cornmeal), Agnolloti al Cinghiale(pasta with wild boar) and Parma Prosciutto(dry-cured ham).

‘It was very tough to get proper ethnic products back then. But we are lucky to live in Toronto with all the different ethnicities. You can have anything you want now.’ he explains.  Chef Capra is an avid admirer of other cuisines. His series, Gourmet Escapes, has taken him to places such as Ireland, Iceland and Holland.  However, television celebrity is not his only claim to fame. He is also author of his own cookbook, One Pot Italian.

As I listen to this lively and animated Italian reminisce of his mother’s bygone culinary influence, his days studying his craft in Tuscany as well as his early years employed at several prestigious hotels in Venice, Milan, the Dolomites and Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, I am aware of his passion for tradition and culture.

‘Cuisine is an evolution of the past.  It is who we are. Italy is not a place where everyone eats spaghetti with meatballs. Italian cuisine is not just three things that you see on a menu. It’s so much more’, he states.

His restaurants, Mistura, Sopra Upper Lounge (above Mistura), Rainbow Room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Niagara Falls as well as Boccone Pronto/Boccone Trattoria at Pearson International Airport – where his is owner, executive chef and creator of all menus- are a testament to his all-encompassing Italian culinary vision.

So what’s next for the tireless chef?  “More shows and eventually more restaurants”, he says jovially.

This summer he is off to Italy, travelling throughout the boot exploring small villages and town festivals for ancient recipes and culinary traditions to be aired on an exciting new season of Gourmet Escapes.  Stay tuned!

For more on Massimo Capra visit


Get The Dish: Family, Food & Fulvio

Last month a man very dear to my heart passed away unexpectedly. Fulvio Bertolotti was my cousin. godfather and most importantly. a kindred spirit. A man with an ex~
traordinary personality he viewed all situations and people in an abstract way. l>-le was one of the most vivacious people l had ever known who saw wonderment in all things and his greatest asset by far was his gift of conversation, storytelling and theatrics.
From the moment he bowed, took my hand and referred to me as ‘your royal highness’ while escorting me down the grand staircase of the magnificent pallazzo of Isola Madre on Lake Maggiore, ltaly to our archaeological excursion in the nearby countryside – all in search of the remains of lost Roman warriors from a long ago battle with the Gauls – no one could dispute his entertaining and childlike imagination. Fulvio would have made a magnificent novelist.

Having grown up in post WWII career options for someone with such an imagination and talents was limited. He eventually went to work as a waiter in Milan, dedicating himself wholeheartedly to what became a satisfying and lifelong profession. Employed in the most prestigious restaurants and hotels as server and maitre d’, my cousin became known as one of the best his field. While gallantly serving aristocracy politicians and renowned actors he developed a passion for the culinary arts. Thanks to him i was fortunate to learn the ABCs of dining etiquette and had the opportunity to sample extraordinary dishes he prepared and mastered under the tutelage of some of the finest chefs in ltaly. Not only did he love to cook but he also enjoyed providing a detailed history behind each recipe. While on my last visit to Milan in 2012 we had debated greatly over the origins of Risotto alla Milanese – a rice dish native to our area. Bearing a strong likeness to paelfa. l was adamant risotto had been introduced by the Spaniards who had settled the region in the sixteenth century. Fulvio, on the other hand. strongly stated that it was created by our very own forefathers and delved into extensive research regarding this subject.

According to his findings, sent to me in the form of an animated letter with an accompanying recipe, the bright yellow rice dish is connected to a renowned stained glass artisan who worked on the Milan Cathedral in 1574. The artisan’s apprentice, who used saffron as a colourant for his glassworks, decided to surprise his master with an interesting gift. Upon the artisan’s daughter’s wedding to a wealthy local merchant. the apprentice added saffron to rice and had it served by valets on opulent silver trays at the reception. l will miss stories as these along with his interesting culinary surprises such as Risotto di Fraqole (strawberry rice) and his anfipasto specialty consisting of savoury port wine and prosciutto served inside cantaloupe halves. l will miss our visits to the village market and his spirited conversation with the vendors but mostly l will miss his extraordinary laughter.
Godspeed my godfather, cousin and friend.

Get The Dish: Traditional Cheese

Cheese has always played a central part of my culinary world. Back when airport security was more lenient my mother’s parents would bring carefully packaged wheels of Friulano on their visits from Italy. I remember watching Grandfather Sergio unwrap the heavy, treasured cheeses he painstakingly carried in his travel case – never understanding what all the fuss was about. Didn’t we have cheese in Canada? Grandfather said we did indeed but that it wasn’t the same! A typical old-world response, I would say to myself.

My grandfather was a casaro, or cheesemaker, by trade and when I was old enough to understand I was awestruck by the importance of his profession. His passion for cheese developed while growing up in the bustling port city of Nice, France where he was surrounded by a large number of varieties. After returning to Italy as young man his parents sent him to study cheese making at a school in the Veneto. It was during this time that he learned the art of curdling, ripening and storing while further mastering his skills by apprenticing at one of the largest cheese factories in the region. Owned and operated by his cousin he would tell me this experience was perhaps one of the most exciting of his life.

Following his retirement when I matured and began travelling to Italy, I came to realize that his skills and management of the local latteria, the dairy shop located his hometown of Friuli, was an essential service. Known from far and wide as the very best in his field grocers, farmers and residents from nearby towns would tell me that he could transform milk into cheese with golden alchemy and that his cheeses, a necessary culinary staple especially during wartime, graced every table in the community.

Cheese is an ancient food predating recorded history but scholars believe it originated circa SOOO BC when cows became domesticated. Although there are countless varieties made by traditional and modern methodologies, the production process includes basic principles. Fresh milk produced by dairy animals is extracted and placed in tempera-
ture-controlled stainless steel vats where it ferments. During fermentation the bacteria in milk changes the milk sugars into lactic acid. This acidity makes the milk coagulate, or curdle, into solid clumps. These curds are then removed from the vat, drained and subsequently shaped or placed into molds. The cheeses then undergo curing and aging.

Some are wrapped in wax and others bathed in salt and depending on the variety or desired taste the ripening process can take anywhere from several weeks to years. I clearly recall this final process as Grandfather would take me to his cheese cellar high in the Alps where he would brush mold off the surface of his cheeses even inserting a metal cylinder and removing a small sample so I could have a taste. Passing years ago, his passion lives on through his descendants who continue to savour its goodness.

Get The Dish: Traditional Pizza

If there’s one dish that’s taken the world by storm, it has to be pizza! How can you not be hypnotized by this tantalizing and dreamy comfort food? Fa st and easy, it’s not only a fa-
vourite at the kitchen table but also at parties, festivals and sporting events. First made famous by the Neapolitans of central Italy, this dish has been embraced by all cultures.
We Canadians prove to have the heartiest appetite for pizza, breaking a world record for the biggest and longest delivery ever made. In 2003, from a distance of over 10,000 kilometers, Canadian peacekeepers stationed in Afghanistan received over 2, 200 medium-sized pizzas. Mainstream culture has also played a pivotal role in its popularity. How can anyone forget Dean Martin’s referral to “pizza pie” in his lyrical rendition of Thats Amore or Julia Robert’s groundbreaking lead role as pizzeria waitress in the Hollywood film, Mystic Pizza? From Italian traditional and thick-crust American to Japanese sushi pizza, there’s no denying its colossal success.

The precise origins of pizza are somewhat obscure. Some say its name comes from the ancient Greek pitke, or fermented pastry, while others give a high-five to the Romans who referred to their flattened bread as pinsa. Howevei; no one can dispute that the pizza so adored today was born in the bustling streets of Naples, where simple flat bread sprinkled with oil and spices was the chosen edible of the pooi: This inexpensive food took on new form following the discovery of the Americas. Italia ns were weary and suspicious ofthe newly-arrived tomato and considered it poisonous. Eventually, after a little trust and experimentation, a perfect marriage between this novelty fruit and flat bread was made. Legend has it that the original pizza and it’s most famous, La Margherita, was made in 1889 to honour the much-admired Italian queen consort, Margherita of Savoy.
On a trip to Naples the queen and her husband, King Umberto, were presented with a pizza showcasing the colours of the Italian flag. Created to symbolize Italian unity as well as recognize the royal couple, the chef sprinkled basil and tomato toppings for effect.

Since then hundreds of varieties have been kneaded, rolled and tossed in the air -from La Diavola (spicy) and Quattro Formaqqi (a four-cheese combo) to the rustic potato pizza and although different cultures create their own unique versions, the European Union has recently recognized and safeguarded Neapolitan pizza by giving it the stamp of Tra-
ditional Specialty Guaranteed Dish. According tothe History Channel’s, Hungry History, pizza made its American debut in New York in 1905 following the influx of Italian immi-
grants. Today Americans purchase three billion pizzas a year with its popularity escalating to soaring heights as pizza shops continue to open at every corner of the country. So, if you’re scrambling about and have no clue what to make the family for dinnei; delectable and satisfying pizza is right at your fingertips!

Art & Soul

Enrico Rennella, Victoria Brocca and Joanna Katchutaseach hope to nd success by putting all of their emotions and efforts into their artistic talents.

The secret to great comedy is the timing as well as the delivery of a punch line. As irony would have it, stand-up comedian, Enrico Rennella first hit centre stage when he was delivered into this world on April Fools’ Day, 1982.

“The family called my father to go to the hospital but he actually didn’t believe my mother was in labour. He thought it was a joke and didn’t show up until the next day”, laughs Rennella.

Although the signs from above could not have been any clearer, it wasn’t until recently that this young man from Naples chose to follow his spiritual path and venture into the world of stand-up comedy. After arriving on Canadian soil in 2011 from his native Italy, Rennella has – in a relatively short period of time – managed to fill the theatre halls of the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Windsor and Montreal. Modern and whimsical tales of a young Italian immigrant’s adventures in Canada bridges the gap between generations of Italian Canadians – where audiences relate to the mutual trials and tribulations of life as well as a collective immigrant story. These personal experiences along with his undeniable wit and boyish charm have made him one of the hottest tickets in town.

“I remember the first time I met a fellow Neapolitan here in Toronto”, Rennella tells a lively audience at the City Playhouse Theatre in Vaughan. “The first thing I did was check my watch to make sure it was still on my wrist!”

Poking fun at his culture is just one element of his comedy act. His flamboyant Neapolitan mannerisms reflect ethnic diversity while his fiery, satirical monologue inoffensively addresses social, religious and political issues. Rennella refers to himself as a one-man show, singing and dancing on stage while interacting with members of his audience. Having embarked on his journey as a professional comedian only two years ago, he has made remarkable strides.

“I’ve faced many obstacles and hardships in my life but once I chose to pursue this dream everything became effortless and doors just starting opening for me”, he explains. “I haven’t reached the pinnacle yet but I have grown a lot in two years. Things are going very well and the community has been very receptive.”

However, life hasn’t always been easy for Rennella, who had to learn about perseverance and self-reliance at too young an age. Born of Italian expatriates living in France, he left home at the age of fourteen, living homeless for a time on the streets of Paris. One year later, after working at various odd jobs mopping floors and washing dishes in local restaurants, he saved enough money to procure his first apartment. In his later teens he found more stable employment in retail and nightclub management.

“I basically grew up by myself.
I had to learn to survive and be self-sufficient. I didn’t have any guidance so I learned about life through trial and error” he explains.

Comedy became somewhat of an escape for Rennella. During his twenties his reputation for making people laugh landed him modest gigs in both Italy and France. However, a full-time career in the volatile entertainment industry only seemed like a distant, unattainable dream. Not until he came to visit relatives in Toronto did he realize that there was a large Italian community proud of its cultural identity and just waiting to embrace his particular style of comedy. Having now permanently laid his hat in the city of Vaughan, Rennella dedicates all of his time to this passion.

“I love what I do because I create my world – my own reality. Even as a small kid, I would entertain everyone around me. I’d stand on a chair and start telling a joke”, he says while reflecting back on his childhood. “Just before I go on stage I become very emotional because I can’t believe I have actually made this happen. I still feel like that little kid.”

His first show, Nu’Scugnizz’ A Toronto, which from the Neapolitan dialect translates to “An Urchin in Toronto”, was performed in Italian. Rennella has recently challenged his artistic ability by doing his first English- speaking engagement this past summer. We can expect more Neapolitan pageantry in his upcoming second show, L’Amore all’Italiana on November 15th and February 14th at Vaughan’s City Playhouse Theatre. This performance focuses on family, friendship and falling in love.

Rennella intends to perform across Canada and the United States adding that he would also like to bring comic relief to the masses by appearing in a television series.


Meanwhile, stirring the subconscious with her thought-provoking images is award-winning photographer, Joanna Katchutas, whose photographs echo the complexity existing within the realms of human emotion. While surrealistic, these works are a reflection of Katchutas’ own life experiences and personal evolution.

“Things change throughout the course of someone’s life. Whatever I am going through in that particular moment of my life is mirrored in what I create. Because I am always changing and evolving so does my work”, she explains.

Her collections were being shown at various exhibitions across the GTA long before graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2011. Recognized and celebrated for her numerous themed collections, she was given her first solo exhibit at the 2012 Vaughan In Focus Exhibition. Katchutas was awarded the Reserve Best in Show Award for her farcical “The Trapeze Artist: The Circus of Everyday Life Series” at a separate exhibit presented by Vaughan In Focus in collaboration with Vaughan City Hall.

When asked why she feels her work has made such a profound impact, she replied, “I like to build my set from the ground up and enjoy using various mediums such as metal, wood and sculpture in my photographs. For example, I created metal wings for the Element Faerys Series”.

The Multiple Clues Series, which sprang from her love of the board game Clue demonstrates how thought processes and emotions lead to choices, actions, consequences and ultimately – destiny. The collection’s “Miss Scarlet” piece won the People’s Choice and Reserve Best in Show awards at the 2009 Vaughan Juried Art Exhibition.

Katchutas’ freelance work includes photojournalism as well as private and commercial photography. She is also Curator of Exhibitions, Multi- Arts and Photography Projects for The Beaches International Jazz Festival, is co-founder of the Bang! Vaughan Arts Collective and participates annually in the Sunnyside Art Fair at Sunnyside Pavillion. As the official photographer for many provincial festivals, concerts and cultural events, Katchutas says that her schedule is quite full these days.


Fashion legend Coco Chanel once said that in order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different. Nothing rings more true for aspiring eighteen year-old fashion designer, Victoria Brocca. Having only just begun her first year at Ryerson University, where she is enrolled in Fashion Communication, this young woman’s one-of-a-kind creations are already a hot commodity. Edgy and bold, her modern designs parallel those of any seasoned couturier.

“I started making my own dresses and would wear them when I would go out. People were so amazed and started asking me to make customized clothing for them too”, explains Brocca who can already boast an extensive roster of loyal clients.

A recipient of numerous scholarship awards from Vaughan’s Façade Academy of the Arts, she was taken under the wing of the school’s director and founder Mina Spremulli. With Spremulli’s careful tutelage and mentorship she learned the art of sewing, fashion sketching and pattern design.

“I have the skills that I acquired at the Academy. Now I want to learn the business aspect of the industry”, she states confidently.

Regardless of her inexperience, she demonstrates a natural flair for business. She recently negotiated her first deal after being selected from a panel of candidates as the of cial designer of the Kermaxx Sweater, which will be launched within the next year by Kermaxx International – manufacturer of extreme sports products and sponsor of Motocross racing events. According to Brocca, this is only the beginning. She believes that top models will one day strut her trendy designs on the international fashion runways. Along with coordinating her own shows, she also plans on collaborating with distinguished and renowned designers.

Not surprisingly, Brocca has a knack for other art genres including painting, photography and make-up artistry skills. She is an ideal package, making her an outstanding asset to the fashion industry.

Uncommonly focused and disciplined for someone so young, Brocca is very clear about where she is headed.

Get The Dish: Heavenly Honey

Commonly referred to as the sweet nectar of life, man has been sourcing and utilizing honey for over 8000 years. Not only has it been a traditional culinary ingredient and important dietary staple, its velvety sweetness has extended itself to beauty regimes and religious practices. Made from bees and the nectar they extract from flowers, the art of beekeeping and honey production has also become paramount in the preservation of our environment. The symbiotic relationship between this species and the ecosystem, relative to cross-pollination and the reproduction of plants, is currently threatened by mass agriculture and pesticides. All is necessary to human survival and thankfully beekeepers have been able to somewhat domesticate the honey bee through artificial beehives consisting of one queen and large number of drone and female worker bees. lt’s fascinating to know that bees will travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than 2 million flowers just to make one pound of honey!

Creating honey by digesting nectar and depositing remains in the honeycomb, bees were just as important in ancient times as they are today. As the world’s top produc-
er, beekeeping in China is so entrenched in history that its origins cannot be dated.

Although ancient Egyptians used honey for embalming the dead, the wealthy wives of pharaohs found more esthetic uses via hair depilatories and skin moisturizers. The Greeks of long ago created legislation in accordance to safety measures and commercialization of their honey while Romans, with a penchant for sweets, used the golden nectar for its sugary component. Evidence found in both Veda and Ayurvedic texts proves the people of India used honey in both spiritual and therapeutic practices. This is also evident in Christian, Hebrew and Buddhist art as well as in Mayan depictions.

lt’s also not surprising that ancient healers prescribed it medicinally as an ointment for rashes and burns and orally for coughs and ulcers.

Today honey is just as widespread, used in skin and hair care products, baking, cooking and in beverages. For the health conscious it has become a sugar substitute and regardless of its natural fructose content it has many benefits such as boosting energy and reducing allergy symptoms. Although it comes in many forms such as raw, pasteurized, crystallized and filtered, not all honey is made equal so you need to do your homework. There are also varying grades which can be measured by taste, fragrance and consistency and high quality honey should flow from a spoon in a steady stream without faltering. Your best bet is to purchase honey from a farmer’s market, a natural food store offering organic varieties or right from the beekeeper. Be sure to choose a brand that is raw, unfiltered and 100% pure and most importantly remember that too much of a good thing can be a detriment. Moderate your honey consumption!

Get The Dish: Summer Wines

The cool northern winds have passed and dog days of summer are finally here! While lounging al fresco and feasting on that sizzling barbeque, nothing can be more tantalizing to the palate than a refreshing summer wine.

Whether you’re entertaining or selecting a bottle for your host, knowing which wine best serves the occasion can be a challenge. Wines are categorized by their country of origin along with the vintage (the year the wine was produced). However many labels don’t specify the grape varietal. instead they list bewildering wine-making techniques, quality classifications and obscure production regions. Adding to this confusion are the age-old rules of food pairing. All you need to keep in mind is that harmony and the counterbalance of flavours is what’s most important. Generally, whites and rosés are chilled while reds are best served at slightly below-average room temperature. Light-bodied wines are always your best bet during the hot, summer months. Taking into consideration price-point and quality, the following are some recommendations for your next brave adventure into the wine aisles.

WHITES White wines are the most popular choice for summer. Avoid full-bodied and wood-aged and instead try sharp, lighter varieties produced in cool climates or higher altitudes. ltaly’s citrusy, crisp and sparkling Prosecco, including the off~dry and lively Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Germany are great starter wines and best served with appetizers and smoky foods. Invest in a Chilean Chardonnay with hints of apricot, melon and banana instead of intensely oaked American brands. The minerally Pinot Gris (or Grigio) and the floral Sauvignon Blanc are a wonderful accompaniment to fish, poultry, pasta dishes, spicy and oil-based foods. Muscat-based wines, which are generally sweet, pair nicely with dessert.
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (italy/$i8.95), Santa Carolina Chardonnay (Chile/$9.951 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand/$18.95) Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand/$19.95), Pelee Island Traminer Muscat (Ontario /$13.95) Kung Fu Girl Riesling (Washington/$17) Ironstone Chardonnay (California/$1Z75) Flat Rock Twisted (Ontario/$16.95)

REDS Young, light-bodied reds are ideal for summer. Unlike the heavy textured Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, which hint of stewed dried fruit, cooler climates produce fruit-forward wines such as Beaujolals, Pinot Noir and Valpo-
licella. These varieties are well known for their pepper-spice and red berry notes, Red Zinfandels from California compliment grilled meat and fish dishes.
Seven Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel (California/$24.95) McManis Cabernet Sauvignon (California 51995)

ROSÉS Rosés are a great alternative to white or red wine. Depending on the black grape varieties used, as well as the winemaking technique, this wine comes in a number of hues and aromas. Don’t store this one too long – roses have a much shorter shelf life than other wines. Extremely light-bodied with tropical aromas and red berry notes, this wine is great for sipping on a hot, sultry summer eve.

The Real Sangria (59), Malivore Ladybug (Ontario/$15.95), Fuchsia Rose (Ontario/$15.95), Jacobs Creek Moscato Rose (A ustralia/$11.95)

*For the health conscious. light-bodied organic and vegan wines are an alternative.

Chuvalo takes up the fight for Caritas

Battle against addiction can be won, says former boxing champ

THE greatest of all time, former world boxing champion Muhammad Ali, once said George Chuvalo was the toughest guy he had ever fought in the ring. It’s no won- der that Caritas, the acclaimed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, called on the legendary Chuvalo to inspire guests during the 24th Annual Together Event. The non- alcoholic luncheon, held in October at the Presidente Banquet Hall in Vaughan, also gave those in recovery the opportunity to share their experiences, reunite with fam- ily and celebrate their sobriety.

Chuvalo, an advocate for drug awareness, is no stranger to Caritas and has been an avid supporter of the foundation for over
20 years. His reasons for encouraging substance abusers to enroll in the program and remain committed are personal. The Canadian heavyweight champion’s numer- able accolades were marred by tragedy from 1985 to 1996, when he lost three sons to heroin addiction. Unable to cope with the senseless deaths of their children, his wife eventually succumbed to suicide.

“You never really heal after something like this,” said an emotional Chuvalo, referring to the loss of his loved ones. Finding purpose by sharing his life experiences, he helps addicts understand the repercussions of drug abuse as well as mentoring those in treatment.

“The three ingredients needed in the hope for recovery is to have faith, respect your family and always tell them ‘I love you’,” he says.

Apart from Chuvalo’s message of hope, there were also gripping open micro- phone testimonials from the residents and their families.

“I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay my sister. She put her life on hold, helped me get out of jail and then got me into the program,” stated one man, trying to hold back his tears. “I’ve been clean for ve months now,” he added to loud applause.

Heart-wrenching, powerful stories were in abundant supply and each individual’s journey was unique. A common denomi- nator between all was the courage each person possessed along with their pro- found desire to persevere.

Bittersweet though it was, the event had its share of entertainment, with a fun- lled afternoon of raf e draws, vendors and a silent auction. Selling like hot cakes was the new book, I Believe, written by Caritas founder, Father Gianni Carparelli. All proceeds of this book sale were allot- ted to the foundation. The Together Event also celebrated the launch of the Caritas Therapeutic Community – Hot Pepper Oil, with 100% of pro ts going to the program. The main ingredient, hot peppers, are grown and harvested by the residents at the King City Farm.

The 80-acre farm is only one example of the organization’s holistic approach to addiction recovery and mental wellness. Caritas is a drug-free environment allow- ing people with addictive problems to cohabitate in a structured community in order to promote change.

The event also featured a stellar perfor- mance from former Caritas resident andCanadian Idol contender, Vince Benenati. Although it has been 22 years since he completed the program, Benenati still uses the skills he acquired in order to deal with his latest adversity—a battle with cancer. “Without the necessary tools and support I received at Caritas, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the challenges I face today,” he said.

For more information on Caritas, visit


“Scotiabank has been very active across the country and is getting involved with environmental initiatives. We believe that within the City of Vaughan we’ve helped create a unique program which deals with these issues.”


In the last several years there has been a visible and significant change to Vaughan’s urban canopy. Problems resulting from the emerald ash borer beetle infestation which destroyed millions of ash trees across North America, as well as the devastation of 2013 ice storm have left some areas stark and barren. Concerned and ready to fight back, local Scotiabank associates are rolling up their sleeves, slipping on their gardening gloves and with shovel in hand are replenishing and further enhancing the city’s original landscape.  “Scotiabank has been very active across the country and is getting involved with environmental initiatives. We believe that within the city of Vaughan we’ve helped create a unique program which deals with these issues,” explains Jason Polsinelli, Senior Wealth Advisor at ScotiaMcLeod and the visionary behind the development of the Scotiabank Branching Out Program in Vaughan. This newfound legacy rooted in beautifying the cityscape and preserving the environment was celebrated this past autumn as a devout team of individuals exercised their green thumbs on the grounds of Concord/Thornhill Regional Park.  Partnering with the City of Vaughan and the Living City Foundation, volunteers from Scotiabank Commercial Banking, Scotia Wealth Management as well as Universal Care planted $30,000 worth of trees along the park’s pathways and boulevard.  “This second annual event was a real success. Our 30 volunteers along with our landscaper – Geoscape Exterior Designs – and City of Vaughan staff planted 280 trees and shrubs. I would sincerely like to thank all our sponsors and volunteers for their contributions in helping beautify Vaughan,” said Scotiabank Branching Out Committee Chair, Mario Cutone. Also expressing his gratitude was Mayor Bevilacqua who, in light of the notorious ice storm and the limited replanting resources allotted to city parks and boulevards, has been a strong advocate for sustainability and environmentally-based initiatives. “This event showcases the great volunteer spirit of our business community and speaks to the commitment both businesses and citizens have to the prosperity of this great city.”


Guitar Hero

Toronto recording artist and Juno winner Robert Michaels has earned a cult following for creating a cross-genre sound that simply defies description.

Expert, agile fingers lightly strum the strings of the classical guitar and sultry music permeates the room.  The dark-haired virtuoso moves rhythmically to the melody. No one present can characterize this magic. Is it Jazz, Flamenco, Cuban, or Neapolitan? It is none in particular, yet it encompasses all. It is a genre of music born only from this man.  It is the music of Robert Michaels.

In an industry inundated with cookie-cutter pop stars, where talent fits a common prototype and creativity is controlled by record labels, Robert Michaels is the antithesis of the status quo. A Juno winner and a three-time Juno nominee, this artist prefers to march to the beat of his own guitar.  His unquestionable skill, combined with his ability to blend diverse musical styles, is the very foundation of his unique sound.

“Whatever this gift is and wherever it’s coming from, I am only the messenger”, he implies.

For two decades this Toronto recording artist, guitarist and vocalist has achieved cult status, entertaining his fans with this original, signature style. Influenced by his Italian heritage, his travels throughout Cuba and love of Latin American music, Michaels’ repertoire offers a kaleidoscope of musical arrangements.  His noted instrumental guitar compositions are a fusion of Latin-Jazz, Flamenco-Cuban as well as Neapolitan-Spanish.  Besides being a Juno recipient he is also a platinum-selling artist (almost unheard of in the instrumental genre) who has also joined forces with several other celebrated musicians, songwriters and vocalists.  Through it all, he continues remain true to his art and cater to his loyal audience.

“I would rather play to a live audience than record an album.  The immediate interaction and the spontaneous energy that it creates are very exciting.” says Michaels.

Born in Toronto to Italian immigrants, some might say Roberto Michele Buttarazzi’s love of music stems from his pedigree.  His mother had a flair for the piano and his father the accordion. As a young boy in the early Sixties he returned to his parents’ native country, living for a time in the outskirts of Naples.  As a young bystander at weddings in his grandfather’s restaurant, he would listen in wonderment to famous Neapolitan songs.

“I think music is in the blood of the Neapolitan. Most Italian music known world-wide originates mainly from this region” explains Michaels.

After returning to Toronto he discovered his passion for the guitar. He played the instrument every moment he could, subsequently mastering his craft at Humber College. The young man continued to be inspired by individual artists and bands such as Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton as well as the Jazz and Classical genres taught by his instructors.

Michaels’ signature sound came shortly after graduating college – born organically in the wine bars and restaurants of Toronto.  During his live performances in these locales, he began to instinctively meld together all his favourite musical styles. Unpremeditated and spontaneous, this new sound created a buzz and to Michaels’ surprise his music became a hot commodity.

“People were coming up to me after my show inquiring where they could purchase my music.” he says. “I asked them, “What do you mean? Just come back next week and I’ll be here!’” he laughs.

This unprecedented demand gave rise to his debut album, Paradisoin 1994. Without the endorsement of a major record label, Michaels achieved platinum status selling over 100,000 units nation-wide. In 1997 his second independent album, Arizona, earned him his first Juno nomination for Instrumental Artist of the Year. The publicity surrounding Michaels attracted the attention of Warner Music Canada who signed him on to create his third album, Utopia. During this period Michaels added another accolade to his list of accomplishments. His next release, Allegrowon a Juno in 2003 for Best Instrumental Album.

All this success raised the eyebrows of several acclaimed artists who now wanted to work with him. Collaborating in his self-titled album was Grammy Award winning Jennifer Warnes, as well as Luba, jazz singer-songwriter Coral Egan and many others. The compilations that followed, such as the noted Cubamenco album showcasing his particular blend of Cuban and Flamenco music, continued to be consistent with his trademark.  In respects to his heritage, Michaels has now come full circle and is promoting his latest album entitled Via Italiawhere Spanish guitar renditions of Caruso and Turna a Surrientoflow magically from his fingertips.

He continues to remain connected to his audience. Recently, his performances in Ottawa, the Markham Theatre as well as the Mississauga Living Arts Centre have received stellar reviews.  His extraordinary talent has even taken him south of the border.

“I’ve been travelling to the United States, writing my own symphony arrangements and scores.  It’s exciting to hear a 100-piece orchestra play the music you’ve created” he says.

Notwithstanding his roster of impressive accomplishments, what truly matters to Robert Michaels is the effect his music has on others.

“What really blows my mind is when I hear someone tell me how one of my songs or albums has impacted their life. Just hearing that means more to me than anything else.”