Alida Solomon: A Taste Of Tuscany
After years exploring the region of Tuscany, chef Alida Solomon launched Tutti Matti, making her mark on Toronto’s restaurant scene with her authentic approach to Tuscan food.
Alida Solomon’s relationship with food began when she was at university, studying a double major in history and geography. Instead of focusing on her studies, she would spend her time cooking from her apartment or, as she likes to call it, “a sort of small,
not-for-profit restaurant. Every time my friends would pick up groceries, I would tell them to just bring it to mine.”
After losing one of her friends that year and dealing with the personal trauma that ensued, she decided it was time to leave university and pursue a career working with what she loved: food. “My dad’s a lawyer, and my mom has a master’s in education, so you can become a black sheep pretty quickly when you decide you want to cook for a living,” Solomon explains. “I had travelled through the Middle East a lot and spent the summer working in Israel, which is where I found this want to cook, so it wasn’t a total shock. My parents are big on education but, 25 years later, they couldn’t be prouder.”
“It was the first time I actually realized things come from places. If you grow up in a city like Toronto, you see a steak, but there’s no connection with where it’s come from”
During the early ’90s Solomon began travelling to Tuscany, Italy, beginning a love affair with the region and its cuisine that would eventually lead to her opening her Toronto-based Tuscan restaurant, Tutti Matti, in 2002. “There was something about the connection between terroir and food,” she says, speaking of her love for the Italian region. “It was the first time I actually realized things come from places. If you grow up in a city like Toronto, you see a steak, but there’s no connection with where it’s come from.”
Today, Tutti Matti has received both local and national awards, and features evolving menus focused on providing an authentic Tuscan experience. “The most important thing for me as a chef is to realize that, if you’re going to choose to focus on a small part of the world, everything you do has to reflect that,” she says. “So our wine list is 99 per cent Tuscan, every product we bring in that isn’t local, like the olive oil, is from Tuscany. We buy from a local farmer in Markham, Ont., who’s Italian. I didn’t want to come back to Toronto and open just another Italian restaurant. I wanted it to be something that was super specific.” Alongside the restaurant’s shifting seasonal menus, it includes five different kinds of handmade pasta and large steak as staples, again traditional to Tuscany.
While both Solomon and her restaurant have seen impressive success, it’s shocking to hear that she is one of only a few female chefs and restaurant owners in the city. “It’s been tough, and it’s something I don’t talk about often because I didn’t want to be a preacher,” she explains. “Toronto is very accepting of people from all over the world, but the one thing we’re not accepting of is a want for people to have it all when it comes to women in the hospitality sector. It sounds very straightforward, but I always wanted to have kids, and I don’t know how that would have happened.” As a result, she advises young, upcoming female chefs to “find a balance. If you want to have a family, find a way to make it happen, because no one is going to do that for you.”
With Tutti Matti about to head into a new season of dishes, and the chef set to appear as a judge on a new Food Network Canada show, Wall of Chefs, in winter 2020, it seems Solomon’s fascination with flavour is just getting started.