The Chef & One World Kitchen Host With Her Dog, Mika
By The Get Leashed Doggy Style Team
As one of Canada’s rising culinary stars, you may have seen Vanessa Gianfrancesco and her signature passion for Italian cooking on your TV screen. We caught up with her at her Montreal home for two main reasons: to see her incredible kitchen and also to meet her doll of a pup, Mika! Mika shares Vanessa’s fervor for good food, and even gets specially made meals served to her by her mom. Read on as Vanessa lets us in on her next travel destination and shares her tips on how to host a dog-friendly dinner party successfully.
Please tell us about yourself, your profession, and what a typical day in your life is like:
I began my schooling in university thinking I would become a lawyer. However, upon completing my program in Political Science, I job shadowed a lawyer and literally got the hot sweats! I realized there was something missing for me. Knowing so, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree and go to culinary school to pursue my true passion. There, I grew a new respect for food and the profession of cooking. I quickly realized that I did not want to work in a restaurant but rather I preferred teaching. I began to teach Northern Italian cooking as well as a pasta classes at Chef en Vous, where I eventually became, and currently am, the general manager overlooking all the different departments including cafeteria management of schools and offices. I love this part of my job because I get to design menus for kids!
All the while, I was also building my brand “CookingwithV”, which sparked a casting on a television show called One World Kitchen on Gusto. I was invited to be the Chef who covers Italian Cuisine. Being on television sparked another passion in me and so I began appearing on other shows like Breakfast Television Montreal and The Marilyn Denis show where I share my love for cooking.
A typical day in my life includes being at one of my many jobs, being around food one way or another, making sure to laugh at least a couple of times a day and at the end of it being able to go to a place I love to call home…and how can I forget walk Mika my munchkin!
Please tell us a bit about Mika. How did she come into your life? Is there a story behind her name or particular breed?
Growing up my sister and I had a question box for my parents that we would put all of our questions into and once a week we would sit down and they would answer them. The most recurring question was always; when can we get a dog!? Well, our dream came true a little later in life when I was 20 years old and my sister was 16, mostly because my parents wanted to make sure that we could participate in the tasks that come with raising a pet. And it was obvious that a Golden Retriever was our first choice because we grew up watching Full House. We were sold! We found Mika from a breeder who bred champion dogs and when we went to visit her, we even got to meet her parents and grandparents! They were all so gorgeous! We were told that we were the last family to choose out of the litter so depending on whichever puppy the family before us chose we would be left with the other one. Ironically, we named Mika mini because she was the tiniest of the litter and we hoped that she would be the one left. On January 1st (that’s right new years’ day!!) we picked up mini!!! She had a small square face, a perfect black little nose and she wanted to lick everyone around her and she wore her heart on her sleeve! For the first two weeks I rocked her to bed in my arms because she loved to be cuddled. It’s been history ever since, and honestly she has brought so much fun, and unconditional love into our family that we are forever grateful for! Her name, we chose, because we thought it sounded just as beautiful as she was.
What are some of your most favorite dishes to make?
Pasta really is my go to meal. I love it because I never make the same pasta twice; I always change something up in the recipe. For instance, I love Bolognese sauce which is a ground meat and tomato sauce. During the week I make a healthier version with lean ground turkey meat and on the weekends I make it with a mix of beef, pork and veal. And not to mention I change the shape of pasta depending on the mood I am in lol…yes I do believe each shape of pasta tastes different, what can I say it is the Italian in me.
Are you particular about what you feed Mika? What are some of her favorite treats?
I love to cook for Mika! Some of my favorite meals for her include chicken or fish, sweet potato, zucchini, whole grain rice and a drizzle of olive oil, and she will devour that! Although, I do like to feed her dry food as well. We always buy high quality grain free food packed with proteins and veggies! Oh and Mika gets a smoothie Monday to Friday (a small portion of course) but it is full of fruits and veggies mixed together, she actually waits for it by the counter where the blender is…she LOVES it!!!
What is your best advice for a dog owner hoping to throw a successful dinner party at home?
My best advice would be to socialize your dog from a young age, or whenever adopted. I hate when people have to have their dogs babysat when they are having people over. Mika was a part of the family from the get go so we made sure she was used to being around people. One of the things that may help is to make sure the dog is in a calm place during dinner, for instance Mika enjoys being on a leash tucked under my chair nibbling on her bone, it helps her to relax and not feel the need to walk around and ask people at the table for food. Something like this allows me to relax, her to relax and my dinner guests to enjoy!
Red wine or white wine?
BOTH!! I could never choose between the two that would be like choosing which pet you like better lol! It really depends what I am eating or my mood, but both are my faves!
What culinary destination is next on your must travel to list?
Next up will be Barcelona. I have only heard great things about it so I am looking forward to eating my way through the city!
How would you describe your personal style?
You will usually find me in black or grey with a punch of color. I love to dress casual, but in something that can easily go from day wear to a dinner out because I never really know what my schedule will be like. But above all I love comfort that looks good! I am a believer that a great bag and pair of shoes can make up for any slack in an outfit!
How would you describe the style of your home? What are the most important elements to you for a workable kitchen and inviting dining room?
Our home is contemporary style with very clean lines and light colors. I must admit that Gianfranco (my husband) and I did have some help with a designer by the name of Danny Morin who was so amazing at capturing who we are as a couple and making a home that reflected us both equally. Although, we continue to make it our own as we add pieces from our travels, photos from great moments in our lives and of course cookbooks that continue to inspire the Chef! Our kitchen was actually the longest room to design in the whole house because I really took my time in deciding what I needed and what would look good but above all be functional! In our kitchen I find that I cannot live without my large butcher block integrated in the counter, it is so simple to chop things on and the larger the surface area the better for prepping! The gas range is also a must because it really helps me to cook things quickly and efficiently and lastly, because the kitchen is the heart of our home (even for Mika), a large island so people can gather around really is great! As for the dining room a nice sturdy wood table, comfy chairs and some dimmers for your lighting, nobody wants to eat with the lights on high!
When you get some time to yourself, what is your ideal weekend?
If I could choose, I would host on one of the days because I absolutely love having people over and cooking for them and the second day would be in my pajamas snuggled up with Gianfranco and Mika all day and night, ideally with the fireplace on!
What inspires you?
Life in general. I love the fact that every day is like a new adventure; it is an opportunity to meet new people, try new things, and see something beautiful. I keep on reminding myself to stop and take in each day.
Finally, if you could leave our readers with a funny story about Mika, or share any of her funny mannerisms that you love:
I could write a book on her funny stories! But the one that stands out is one day we brought her to get groomed, we arrived home, prepared dinner and were enjoying it outside on the patio. We had blocked the entrance to the underground pool because she had just gotten groomed so beautifully we didn’t want her to be wet! All of a sudden we hear a giant splash; Mika had jumped into the pool from the ledge and was casually swimming back and forth in the pool! We all laughed so much because she was relentless! She had to go in cutie pie!