By Morri Mostow
All signs point to success for Virgo Catering, a five-star addition to the Knowlton food scene. Virgo Romano, who is actually a Gemini, has partnered with local entrepreneur and Knowlton Pub owner Gerry Wood to bring his passion for haute cuisine into the homes of Brome County residents.
Romano describes his cooking style as an eclectic blend of Italian, Asian and fusion cuisine. We can make whatever our customers want, he says. After 15 years in hotel and restaurant management in exotic locales around the world, Romano is an inventive and creative cook in his own right. I enjoy devising new dishes around whatever ingredients I have on hand.
And what ingredients! The Traiteur Virgo Catering storefront in the Boardwalk mall (formerly Ben & Jerrys) stocks an array of locally produced delicacies for sale and for use in his confections: maple products from the Old Red Barn in Foster; the complete line of Brome Lake Duck products, sold at the same prices as at the duck farms retail store; Brome Lake Wild Boar salami, patés, proscuitto, roast and chops from the McDougall wild boar farm on the outskirts of Knowlton. Virgo Catering is the exclusive retail outlet for these succulent boar products. Even the fruits and vegetables come from a local supplier: Alban Houle in Sutton.
Romanos mentor is the illustrious California chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, owner of Spago and other internationally acclaimed restaurants. Romano spent several years with the Wolfgang Puck Food Company, opening their catering division and Wolfgang Puck Cafés in the Middle East. In fact, Romano has decorated the shop in the same bright primary colours used in these Cafés, which were designed by Pucks wife, Barbara Lazaroff.
So how did Romano, a Montreal native who has been working almost non-stop in Europe, Africa and the Middle East since graduating from Torontos George Brown College 15 years ago, end up in Knowlton? The connection is his colleague and close friend Debra Wood, a hotel and food administration graduate, with whom he has worked at different gourmet establishments, first in Ontario and then in Kuwait. Debra, eldest daughter of Gerry Wood, now lives in London, where she is the training director for a hotel chain and a partner, with her father and husband, David Ward, in Woodward Enterprises, the exclusive UK distributor for the Berg liquour tracking system.
When Gerry Woods wife Margaret died suddenly last November, Romano came to the funeral to offer his condolences to the family. Gerry and Debra asked Romano to cater Margarets wake and the rest, as they say, is history. Gerry, who abandoned plans to retire after his wifes passing, realized he had a culinary phenomenon on his hands and offered to set Romano up in business and act as a silent partner. He also brought Romano into the Knowlton Pub to revamp the food service. In January, Romano launched the Pubs popular Sunday brunch ($11.95), a lavish gourmet buffet that Romano whips up single-handedly in the Pub kitchen every Sunday morning starting at 2 a.m.
Obviously, the planets were in alignment for this new business venture. Romano was between contracts at the time and available, as was Renée Savage, a chef and colleague from his Wolfgang Puck days, whom Romano imported to Knowlton last week from Ottawa to run the catering service and man the storefront with him.
If the opening of Virgo Catering last Friday is any indication, Romano and Savage know how to throw a party. Over several hours more than a 100 guests navigated among a balloon-festooned ceiling, guzzling an endless flow of burgundy and chardonnay as they sampled gourmet pizza, crab sushi, deep-fried stuffed olives, breaded fried shrimp coated with chilli peppers and burnt sugar, wild boar salami and more, each plate elegantly decorated with a checked motif of beet and parsley coulis. But such an event is childs play for Romano, who has catered thousands of parties and weddings, some for more than 2,000 guests at a time.
The bigger the better, says Romano, who is known for his calm and unflappability. When I was still a student at George Brown, we catered a party outside town. When we opened the truck, we found that all the food had toppled over. We had to go shopping and recreate everything on the spot. It was an epiphany. I realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life!
Virgo Catering offers a selection of take-out meals, both freshly made and fresh-frozen, pasta and other sauces, packaged gourmet products, and gift baskets to order. Customers will always find a hot meal ready for take-out every afternoon. The menu is not set and will adapt to customer demand. Virgo Catering will cater events, parties and weddings, large and small, and even intimate dinners, which they will prepare in your home if you prefer and handle the clean up afterward. Romano is famous for his themed parties former clients from around the world still call me for ideas so expect some extravagant entertaining this summer!
Traiteur Virgo Catering, 255B Chemin Knowlton, is open seven days a week. Saturday afternoon cooking classes, for novices and more experienced cooks, begin in May. For more information, call 450-243-0834. For culinary emergencies or impromptu parties, call Virgo Romano anytime on his cell at 450-405-3428.
© Morri Mostow & Associates, 2001.