Picture this. San Michele di Bari, a typical Italian town steeped in history and abounding in spectacular scenery. Its people work hard but on their down time, they enjoy merriment and exquisite, culinary delights. In the evenings, the piazzas buzz with trendy restaurants and bars. Numerous butchers sell the classic Zampina sausage flavoured with cheese, parsley, pepper and tomato; perfectly grilled on the barbeque with an aroma that is totally irresistible. This is a world very familiar to Leonardo Moschetti, Red Seal Chef and owner of Vita Bella Bistro.
Leo was born and grew up in San Michele. He graduated from high school at the age of 14 and since his brother was an electrician, he resolved to head in his brother’s footsteps. “I’m not partial to heights so I quickly realized that being an electrician was not for me. Instead, I decided to go back to cooking school,” he explained. This was quite natural for him because Leo had always enjoyed cooking. “If my friends were out playing soccer and my mom was doing something interesting in the kitchen, I was with my mom. That should have been a clue,” he chuckled.
He worked in Italy for a while but times were tough back then. He had some family here so at the age of 21, Leo decided to make Canada his new home. “I settled in Vancouver and it was challenging at first. I had to learn the language, the culture and I had to get a job,” he said.
Italian cooking was Leo’s passion and his first job was at Portobello Italian Restaurant in Vancouver.
Along with two other partners, he opened up his own restaurant in 2000. Three years later, Leo and wife Valerie began thinking of moving up to the interior, so Leo sold his share of Amici Italian Restaurant. “In the end, Valerie decided that perhaps we shouldn’t move to the interior, so I briefly worked in Yaletown but shortly after, we opened up Vita Bella Ristorante in Burnaby.
While they enjoyed the experience, they decided to move to Chilliwack after about five years of owning the Burnaby restaurant. “We moved out here in 2010 and opened up Vita Bella Bistro. I grew up in a small town. At first, when I moved to Canada and settled in Vancouver, I loved the city but eventually, it got to be too much. Valerie’s mom lives in Chilliwack so we’d come out to visit her many times and I’d also do some fishing. I love to fish,” he chuckled.
From the time that the Moschetti’s opened up Vita Bella Bistro in Chilliwack, Chef Leo has always dared to do things with his own sense of flair and creativity. While Chef Leo always strives to ensure innovative, flavourful and beautifully presented dishes, he also loves to try different things. “I enjoy being creative and I also love to teach. I used to teach at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Granville Island and this was something that I wanted to continue to do,” he explained. So, he introduced cooking classes at Vita Bella. The cooking classes are held on Mondays and include one hour of instruction and demonstration by Chef Leo and dinner which consists of the demonstrated menu. “I also love to cook for people where it’s a total surprise. We have what we call a Chef’s Table at Vita Bella. This is a special dinner where we can host up to six people. You arrange for this ahead of time and when you book it, you would advise us of any allergies, food sensitivities or dislikes and of your budget and I will then prepare a menu for your party which is not disclosed until the night of your dinner. We can even do your wine pairing,” he explained enthusiastically.
Chef Leo is a friendly, humble, passionate and talented man who lives and breathes cooking. In fact, you will normally find him in the kitchen. Still, when he has a bit of down-time, he enjoys watching soccer, fishing and ballroom dancing. “Oh, I forgot. I also quite enjoy video editing. Don’t ask me why but I really enjoy it,” he laughed.