All my life, food has been a source of inspiration. My earliest memories are set behind countertops and tables, surrounded by ingredients whose names I couldn’t yet remember, but whose flavours I was already able to recognize. I was taken under my grandmothers’ and mother’s wings in the hopes of carrying on their recipes and traditions, and over twenty years later, I have accomplished just that. My best recollections are of spending summer vacations in my grandmother’s kitchen, preparing meals for our family of fourteen. From fresh pastas to hearty minestrones made from our home-grown garden vegetables, I would spend my days experimenting with new recipes while the rest of kids would be outside playing. My big – and hungry – Italian family was always the perfect test group! This not only developed my sense of taste, it awakened a deeply-rooted passion for cooking and entertaining.
Although, when it came to school and career I did not follow my passion initally; in fact I was studying to become a lawyer and it wasn't until after finishing my bachelor’s degree in political science and I shadowed a lawyer, that I realized this wasn’t the career for me. As you can imagine those are the fun days when you get to see your future in a nutshell! For me it was the complete opposite... I describe the experience as getting the hot sweats from head to toe, and I immediately realized that this was not something I could do forever! And because I was always doing something food related while in school and loving every moment it was only natural to me that I would take a pause with university and tap into something that I loved so much – and that was cooking! I decided that I wanted to be more than a self-proclaimed chef. I wanted to equip myself with the proper training that would take my raw talent and passion to a higher and more succulent level, so I applied and was accepted at Montréal’s culinary institute, ITHQ. It was there that I not only learned technique, but discipline and a new respect for food, which have all culminated in the chef that I am today.
I told everyone that this was going to be a break for me and that I would eventually return to law school, but the truth is I loved this so much from day one that once I got my feet wet, there was no turning back!
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
All my life I have been someone who loves public speaking. Sharing my opinions and ideas in front of a crowd was something I did as early as I could speak - my parents always remind me! Coming out of culinary school, I immediately realized that I wanted to teach cooking. That is when I started my career at Chef en Vous, where I began teaching my Northern Italian and Pasta classes. I loved to see the reaction on people’s faces as they transformed ingredients into beautiful dishes and they did so with my recipes and guidance! It was no secret that I binge watched cooking shows from when I was young as well! I would watch the chefs in complete awe as they would be given the opportunity to share their recipes on television. I'm not sure who I thought I was but I decided to write to the Food Network and convince them that I would be their next Food Network Gem! (LOL, that was actually the subject in my email).
As you can imagine I was not accepted right out of the gate although, I was given the best advice ever. They told me they loved me and my personality but that I had to build a brand and have an audience in order to make it on TV. Immediately I started working on the brand CookingwithV. Two years later on October 1st 2014 my website was launched and the following day I got an email from Gusto TV asking me if I could audition for a show they were developing called One World Kitchen...I was SPEECHLESS. This created the momentum that I needed to continue pushing on and as time went on the cookbook for the show was released, we did season 2, and I started appearing regularly on shows like Breakfast Television Montreal and The Marilyn Denis Show to name a few. What began as a passion, rolling out pasta dough at 18 months old alongside my grandmother became my career that would earn me a living and to this day there is nothing I am more grateful for!
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Television is one of those things that no matter how hard you work, there is no guarantee that you will ever be chosen. When I went to cooking school so many people advised me against it. They would constantly ask me what I wanted to do with it and what the next steps were, and when I would tell them that I wanted to teach and be on television they would say "oh good luck with that, what is your back up plan?'' I would say trying to convince people that I would reach my goal was by far the most challenging thing, because for me there was never any question, the only thing I would contemplate is when the opportunity would arise, and I was not going to stop until I got there.
Another hurdle in this business is being able to hear the word no; learn from the why, get back up and try again. This is one of the things that has made me so much stronger, I’ve learned to take the emotion out of the business side and not take things personally. This is one of the things that has taken me years to accept.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Having the support from my family and my husband (boyfriend at the time) was fundamental. They would encourage me to do what I wanted to do as long as it made me happy. And ironically when you ask people what they want to do when they get older they all have the titles - doctor, teacher, lawyer, chef - but not one person says HAPPY. And for some reason that was my quest from so early on, I wanted to wake up every morning happy to do something that could earn me a living. If I could give another person advice who is in a similar situation as mine, I would tell them that people will always have an opinion no matter what you do; good or bad. Listen to you heart, follow it and never back down just because someone else thinks it’s a bad idea!
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
I never got into the business to be famous. I was led down this path because I love food and the connection I can make with people through food! My husband the other day asked me what it was about television that I loved so much. And my answer was the following: ''To me being on TV is like being passed the microphone in a crowded room. It is a privilege that I never take for granted – I am so blessed to be able to share my whole story, traditions and recipes with people that watch." In today's world everyone wants to be famous, but when you get into the business for the wrong reasons the opportunities do not come to you. Stay true to your bottom line which is being happy, and the success will follow. That success is not always popularity, fame and money; but I always said if I could make an honest living being happy and doing what I love that IS success for me!
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
That it is perfectly acceptable to do what you love, and that everything oddly has a way of working itself out. Life does not have to be so planned, sometimes you just have to take the ropes that come to you!
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Don't look for a job...look for what makes you happy!