Claudia Bianchia, 38-year-old culinary producer for the Food Network and Toronto’s most sought-after food stylist, and her husband, Justin Cournoyer, a food consultant for the Food Network who sources ingredients and creates and tests recipes, are the gastronomic dream team behind nearly every food show in town. And for the last five-and-a-half years, they’ve been busy renovating a two-storey building they bought at the corner of Ossington and Hallam in downtown Toronto. On the main floor? Their restaurant, Actinolite, named after Cournoyer’s home town in eastern Ontario along the Skootamatta River, and up above, their digs that they share with their two-year-old son, Toby. “Before we moved in we actually went around in a three kilometre radius knocking on everybody’s door, introduced ourselves and said we were hoping to open up a restaurant,” says Bianchi. “We wanted to make it clear that we wanted to preserve the integrity of the neighbourhood, even restore it.”
Have a peek inside Actinolite (photos courtesy of our very own Andrew Tolson), followed by a few interview excerpts that didn’t make the Maclean’s print story, but were too tasty not to share.
During an Maclean’s interview with Bianchi, her husband asked, “Frankie, you okay?” “Yeah,” she said, “I’m cool, Frankie.” But who’s Frankie? Turns out they both are. It’s a nickname that Cournoyer picked up back at a James Beard Dinner in New York in July, 2000. His old boss, chef Susur Lee, took a crew down to help cook. At the end of the very long day, which included a few top notch culinary pit stops at Daniel, Craft, Jean Georges, Town, Acquavit and Chinatown for noodles, the team had some trouble hailing a cab. Cournoyer stepped out into the street and yelled, “Frankie!” Back in Toronto, when Bianchi would call Cournoyer at Susur’s restaurant, the person on the other line would inevitably say, “It’s Frankie’s wife!” The nickname stuck, for both of them.
ON MEETING JUSTIN
“I don’t think Justin had ever met someone who was Italian before me. My dad is Italian and my mother is British. So my parents each have their own kitchen. My father still makes his own cheese, like ricotta and pecorino. We still get a pig and butcher it—I know charcuterie is really in right now but I grew up with 30 people coming to our house while the kids played hide and seek and the men butchered the pig and the women were all making pastas and stuff. I’ve always been around food. And then my mom being English, I had fresh scones every Sunday morning. She actually had to live with her in-laws before she married my dad so they could be sure she could cook. When Justin met my family, they invited him for a diner and they had all the meat—the ribs, the chicken, the sausages, the lamb chops—every kind of meat because that’s what most Italian do. They were cooking everything. There was a whole fish. It was my nonna and Justin at the table at the time—my parents were still bringing more food in—and he ate the eyeball and my nonna looked at him, turned over the fish, and she ate the other eyeball. I was like, ‘Done.’ ”
ON TAKING CARE OF JAMIE (OLIVER, THAT IS) WHEN HE COMES TO TOWN TO DO MEDIA
“We do all the grocery shopping. Justin will go and we’ll divide and conquer. Everything comes back here and gets washed and cleaned. And then I follow Jamie around to every single place and I set up for him. He’s right-handed so I make sure his knife is on the right-hand side and that his salads are washed and in the right order. They’ll want him to do a three-minute interview with a minute-and-a-half of cooking so sometimes he’ll pick four recipes to do in that time. I’ll have the lasagnas layered twice and I’ll have to explain to him: ‘the only thing you’re going to be adding are this, this and this. Your next step is you’re moving onto your arugula salad. I’ve already sliced your onions, you’re just pickling and putting them in here.’ And I have to be at an event before he arrives so we literally leave and then grab the stuff from wherever we are and then I move on to the next one to beat him there so we can set up again. It’s exhausting. He’s exhausting because he’s so huge. I’m talking 36 media events in one day . He’s talking the entire time—radio interviews, over the phone. It just doesn’t stop. Last year he did this thing at the convention centre and he said to me, ‘Oh my god, I’m so tired.’ And I said, ‘You’re so tired? I just had a baby. And, I’ve got to deal with you and you have no idea how much work you are!’ And he’s like ‘I just had a baby too, and that’s four so you try having four kids.’ Okay, but he don’t have to look after someone like himself.
Read the Maclean’s print story on Actinolite here.