The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

Daniel Costa, Corso 32

In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era—he answered a questionnaire about himself in a friend’s Confession Album.

Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or another, for more than a century. Many have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. The Tomato now gives it a culinary twist.

In a very short time, Daniel Costa has revolutionized how we think about Italian food. His research of the best ingredients and products, both home grown and Italian, has benefited the entire food scene. His belief in downtown has reframed Jasper Avenue as a vibrant place to be.

His first restaurant, Corso 32, cool and modern with contemporary food based on classic Italian techniques and ingredients, is unapologetically Italian, with its made-in-Italy wine list and lavish use of Italian language on the menus. Italophiles rejoiced, others now understand that what was happening here was important. At Bar Bricco, the atmospheric drinks space next to Corso, chef Costa taught us to enjoy a beverage Italian-style with prized salumi and little snacks.

Next up is Ucellino, creating a trio of unique spaces in which to live la dolce vita.

Daniel Costa
Daniel Costa
Illustration by Rasmussen

Years cooking?
As soon as I could use my hands.

Where would you like to live?
I love Rome. I love the day to day life, how it feels like you are in a living museum, the culture of eating, so many little restaurants. The food is amazing and there is endless stuff to do.

Your favourite food and drink?
Tortellini en brodo with Lambrusco in Modena, or a glass of Greco di Tufo with spaghetti alle vongole on the Amalfi coast.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?

Your favourite qualities in a dish?
Balance and simplicity. Sometimes it’s recognizing what to remove from a dish.

A cook?
Someone who takes the time to read more about what they do and that makes them happy. No matter how long a day, I still open a cookbook. I can teach you how to cook but I can’t teach someone to love it.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
Something with wine or something with music.

A wine?

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
My wife and son, all of my family, Pellegrino Artusi, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Cartier Bresson, Ennio Morricone.

Who would cook?
I would like to cook for all these people, then sit down and enjoy it with them.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Did you taste that? You’re a gem.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?
My obsession has never really changed. I’m always digging deeper into the history of Italian food.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
Right before you called I had some olive oil on my finger and I gave it to my son Gennaro, his first time, he made the face. Cooking at Cappezano with their chef. When I was 19 years old and training as a chef, I went to Bologna with my dad. We went to Tambourini for lunch—it was more of a feeling, everything was just perfect. The first time I had really good spaghetti and clams.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
The first six months in culinary school I was into fusion, complicated dishes, super-cheffy. On that trip with my dad I made a complete switch, my whole philosophy changed—it was much more clear. There’s way too much to know about the food of Italy.

My dad.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?
Things like aglio e olio. I go home and make spaghetti and basil or with anchovies, garlic and chili peppers. Simple things.

What’s next?
The new restaurant Uccellino (little bird) is a modern trattoria and most true to all the dishes I love from Italy, everyday dishes inspired by central Italy, Rome, Umbria, Tuscany, Campania.