Eating local, avoiding the chain gang

Ciao! editor talks local food, Winnipeg restaurants

Antoinette Dyksman/UNITER ARCHIVES

Whether you’re looking for flavourful ethnic cuisine, wholesome organic food or simply a good burger, there is no shortage of exotic, local choices in Winnipeg. Since 1997, Ciao! magazine has highlighted the best of Winnipeg’s exploding restaurant scene with a focus on tracking new, local trends.

The magazine’s mandate is to drive people away from the bland, processed food of chain restaurants by promoting beautiful, diverse dishes prepared by Winnipeg’s many culinary experts.

The Uniter spoke with Ciao! co-editor Gillian Leschasin about Winnipeg restaurants, the rise of tapas and sushi, and what it’s like editing a food magazine.

The Uniter: Do you and the co-editor actually make a living editing a food magazine? What’s that experience like?

Gillian Leschasin: There are two editors here and we actually edit and write three magazines under the Fanfare Magazine Group name, so it’s definitely a full-time job. We do Where, which is the magazine distributed in hotel rooms for tourists, and we do Taste, which is an annual dining guide for tourists who come to Winnipeg. ... Combining a passion for writing and a passion for Winnipeg and a passion for food ... makes it a really great living.

How do you keep the magazine fresh and interesting for new readers?

It’s quite extensive ... we spend time looking at food trends and how to incorporate that into the magazine. We’re also always looking for new ideas for styling because as a magazine, we’re all about the visual appeal. That means going out to local stores and seeing what’s new in the shop, what products are out there, what’s hot in the design world. Between the two, the magazine stays really fresh and current.

What are the new food trends in Winnipeg?

The trend of the year was tapas, small plates better designed for sharing. We saw a few new restaurants open where that was what they were all about.
For example, Samurai, which is a Japanese restaurant downtown, they’re serving Izakaya which are small Japanese bar snacks. Segovia is an exclusively tapas restaurant that specializes in the Spanish version of the small plates and was also named our restaurant of the year.
More recently, Sensi wine lounge has opened in the Exchange above Tre Visi restaurant. They have $5 piattini, which are the Italian small plates.

What is the appeal of tapas for Winnipeg diners?

I think that Winnipeg diners are becoming more curious and adventurous and want to try a whole bunch of different flavours that cover a wide spectrum of tastes and presentations in one sitting versus just sticking with just one entrée, one side, one soup, one salad kind of thing.
What do you think of the sushi trend in Winnipeg? Is it still expanding and going strong?
We’ve definitely seen an explosion in the sushi trend in Winnipeg. As far as I can tell, I don’t see it dwindling any time soon. It’s a good sign that Winnipeggers are opening up to different types of cuisine. It’s almost gone beyond the exotic into the mainstream now. You can find it in the Polo Park food court, so it really has become accepted.

What smaller, ethnic restaurants can you recommend that may be overlooked by the average Winnipeg diner?

One that we recently reviewed was Sa’aadal Kheyr, a Somalian restaurant. They make phenomenal food there. It’s kind of an unassuming place on the outside, but the food there is very flavourful - it’s got a lot of punch to it and a lot of uniqueness. They’re the only Somalian restaurant in the city so if someone is looking for a real culinary adventure and want to expand their palate, that’s one of places I like to send them to.

What advice would you give to a new restaurant opening up in the city? What attracts Winnipeggers?

I definitely think that finding a niche market is helpful. Having a great product at the right price point and great service are all key to forging ahead with a successful first restaurant.
One of the recent launches is Hermanos. We named them best new restaurant in 2009, and there’s no one really doing a South American-specific steakhouse, so they set themselves apart from everybody else by doing something different.

What’s the formula that you use to decide best restaurant or restaurant of the year?

When we’re evaluating restaurants we’re looking for that special factor. That’s what we’re trying to assess when we’re in the restaurant. For example, in a sandwich shop, it might be that they are actually roasting the meat on site daily. That would be special and unique. When you can find that special factor that sets it apart from other restaurants in its category, then they make our best list and we love to promote them.

What’s your most memorable food experience while editing Ciao!?

One of the really exciting ones for me was my first Christmas issue ... and that was with La P’Tite France and they do classic French food. Not only was the food fabulous, but we also decided to come up with an entirely new concept in terms of styling. Connecting with La P’Tite France was great.


Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)

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