Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Gina Tolentino from Bar del Corso

By meerna Jun25,2024
Gina Tolentino from Bar del Corso

Welcome to Table Talk, our series exploring the Seattle restaurant and bar scene. Industry insider Jenise Silva introduces us to the fascinating chefs and bartenders that delight our palates here in the PNW. Have a suggestion? Email [email protected]

Gina Tolentino opened the beautiful Bar del Corso in Beacon Hill with her partner, chef Jerry Corso, in July 2011. Since opening, the restaurant has had an excellent reputation and seems to become more and more popular with each passing season. Their pizzas, pastas and small plates, including Baccala and Bagna Cauda pies, made the evening memorable for many.

Working in restaurants is demanding, but Gina, a self-described free spirit, still finds time to pursue her other passions. When she’s not at the restaurant or volunteering in her community, you can find her painting work in her studio or on the lawns at the Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club, where we recently met her.

Seattle Refined: What’s your first memory of someone cooking?
Gina Tolentino: It would have to be my mom. Growing up, my mom cooked almost everything for us and my dad grilled us on the weekends. My first memory of food was probably sitting at the counter watching my mom make pancakes. I think I associate myself most with baking, because in the kitchen I associate it with making desserts: German chocolate cake for my dad’s birthday, lemon bars and meringue cake, Christmas cookies. I enjoyed learning baking techniques and how the flour felt in my hands. Besides, I have a huge craving for sweets.

What inspired you to take up cooking?
What this means for me is that I was looking for someone who could cook for me! When I met my husband, I liked eating food more than preparing it, and he prepared some of the best food I have ever eaten. Being part of the culinary community was like entering a new world with a whole new set of rules, players, and things to learn. I began to understand more about ingredients, what it means to cook for people beyond my immediate family, and what hospitality looks like. I learned about Slow Cooking and went to Italy, where I ate everything and learned a few things that made me want to cook.

Apart from feeding people, what is your most memorable job?
Before moving to Seattle, I lived in Los Angeles and worked in the video game industry. I wanted to work for the Disney Company all my life and I realized that dream in 1996. It was a really memorable job because I was surrounded by other artists and we just had so much fun making things. I also worked for Imagineers and some of those people were really brilliant and out of the box. Plus we ate out for lunch all the time. There are some really great restaurants in Burbank, where our offices were located, and the greater Los Angeles area, from Cuban to Filipino to Lebanese and everything in between.

How long have you been in the industry and how many places have you practiced your craft?
I think I’ve been in this industry for about 15 years, although I worked in a restaurant in college so I had some basics. I worked for Allrecipes before we opened our restaurant, but I really got started around 2009 when we started writing our business plan, raising funds, shopping, blogging, finding a location, testing recipes, coming up with menus, design ideas, team building… the list goes on. So I can count on one hand how many places I have worked in the food industry.

What is your favorite dish or menu you have created and what inspired it?Our menu includes Vignarola, an ode to spring vegetables: peas, artichokes, favas, with a bit of pancetta for good measure. It comes from the Castelli Romani area near Rome, where there are many vineyards. The name comes either from vineyard workers or vegetable growers, but either way it is a simple dish with a rural tradition, which is to say, the best. It’s also just really delicious.

Tell us about your favorite ingredient and something we should know about it.
I think I would choose Italian plum. We have several trees in our yard. Our friends Vanessa and Peter came over and picked some, then brought us a jar each of plum jam and spicy plum chutney. I make cakes with them, we dehydrated them a bit and they taste very good. I love these plums because they are sweet and nutritious and feel good in your hand when you pick them. I also like their color and smell.

It’s probably impossible not to mention artichokes and artichokes. There is something very homely about its taste to me – my mother grew them, cooked them and we ate them with melted butter. We chose cardamom as our Bar del Corso logo and I think when we went to Rome in 2003 and ate Carciofi alla Romana stuffed with mint, lemon and olive oil at 10pm the first night we arrived… I just fell in love. Honestly, I don’t eat enough of them, so they still make a great snack.

What is a memorable meal that someone else prepared for you?
It’s hard… I can’t choose just one! For something very simple and sweet, I remember my friend Noni making minestrone and then chocolate chip cookies for me in her San Francisco apartment in the 1990s, after a breakup. I felt loved and nurtured. In 1986 in the Philippines there were huge breakfast buffets, lunches and meriendas that I will never forget! Christos’ Greek extravaganza meal on the Queen Anne was unforgettable, all cooked by him and Mylene. Festival of the Seven Fishes at Bar del Corso in 2018 with Melissa (Musang) and some members of the Seattle Filipino Clan.

Which local restaurant or bar are you enjoying right now and what are you ordering?
Baja Bistro has great jalapeño margaritas, good when you’re stuffing dollar bills into Atasha Manila’s hands! CheBogz next door to eat sizzling tofu sisig. I love the seasonal pancit at Musang and Shady Lane pretzels with beer cheese at Clockout Lounge. Cafe Quilombo – I love their hot chocolate and tamales.

Tell us about what you enjoy outside of work.
Lazing on the beach, swimming and painting. This is my perfect day. I’ve been gardening lately and it’s the best.

What is your favourite drink?
I love coffee and drink it religiously, for better or for worse. Water. Orange juice – I know, a bit boring. I like beer very much, so I usually have light beer in the fridge. And tequila. I really like the Dos Volcanoes in Davis, California. And lately I like to try different sakes. I still have a lot to learn, so don’t ask me what I know 😉

Find out more about Gina Tolentino and Bar del Corso here.

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Jenise Silva is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Follow more of her adventures here.

By meerna

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