Nobody has a laugh quite like Richard Nigro. It’s higher-pitched, louder and more jovial than you’d expect, and it erupts from him during conversation without warning like a splash of hot sauce on scrambled eggs.
It’s nice to see Nigro looking so cheerful after our last meeting, which had a more serious tenor, coming on the heels of a seemingly abrupt ending to his 17-year tenure as head chef at Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar.
This week he’s fired up to share the news that renovations have begun on the retail space on Wellington St. that was last Emerald Pastry & Food Shop, where Nigro is preparing to open Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen in the New Year.
He describes the concept for his shop along the same lines as popular catering and take-out operations like Epicuria, The Red Apron, and Thyme & Again, with an emphasis on offering heat-and-eat meals for time-starved customers who appreciate restaurant-quality food. He hopes to differentiate himself by offering an innovative, eclectic, and internationally inspired menu. “And because I’m in the kitchen,” he says with a grin, “the food will be flavourful.”
Nigro adores working with all kinds of spices and constantly researches recipes and new flavour combinations. He has developed his own line of spice blends, rubs, salts, and hot sauces as well as pickled vegetables featuring produce from the nearby Parkdale Market. These items will be used in his cooking and will also be sold as pantry items as part of the shop. He is hoping customers will become as addicted as he is to his tomato-garlic croutons, and will share his passion for fleur de sel maple caramels and rosewater marshmallows.
At lunch, the Kitchen will offer a daily selection of soups and salads, grilled panini, the Daily Meatball (meat, fish or vegetarian) and some kind of hand-held savoury “bundle” including samosa, Jamaican patties, Italian calzone, North African wraps and Vietnamese rice-paper wraps.
In terms of dinners, he plans to have a “Roaster of the Day” — perhaps a stuffed and roasted chicken with accompanying sides that serves 4-6 people. Rather than serving french fries, he’s planning to create a signature twist with spice dusted potato wedges topped with bacon and blue cheese sauce.
“It will be a kissing cousin to poutine,” he says and belts out a tremendous laugh.
Look for it in the New Year: Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, 1200 D Wellington St. W. (between Hamilton and Hinton)