tofino business profile - pasticceria conradi

Tofino business profile:Pasticceria Conradi

by Jan Brubacher, Tofino

Trattoria… [Italian, from trattore, host, from trattare, to treat, from Latin tractre; see treat.]

S Saturday afternoon, a quiet day with a soft shower of rain to moisten the skin. The sun behind a light cloud cover, releases warmth. A few tourist around town—a slow movement toward the frenzy of the summer season. I walk toward the new building on the corner of Neill and First. I enter by the kitchen door to talk with Matthias Conradi the chef Patissier of the new Pasticceria Conradi.

Inside is a whirlwind of activity, Matthias is busy preparing food and attending to the last minute details of kitchen set-up. Out in front, Jessica James, the manager, is framing the various licenses and certificates to hang on the wall, fielding phone calls, and arranging staffing, all in preparation for the grand opening in two days. Both have that big energy that comes from working on a labour of love, a labour that is about to come to fruition.

I wander through the kitchen with it’s sparkling stainless steel shelves and countertops, glimpses of cakes and cookies, high ceilings, delectable smells wafting throughout. It is enormous. This is an impressive kitchen that can can produce serious food, and survive a tsunami.

Open space. From the kitchen to the front counter, which is an impressive sight, “black granite, six meters long.” Past the display case, to the seating area. Big space is what this place is all about.

The front, with seating for 27 people, is spacious and light filled, with natural earth tones—sand, air, water. The large windows have sandblasted wave patterns—the floor is slate.

Outside at the entrance is a small patio with a large stone fireplace that can add some warmth to those chilly foggy days. Inside the front door is a small retail space that Jessica tells me will expand as they move along and see what people want. Right now it is full of yummy treats like Dutch syrup waffles, gooseberry jam, olive tapenade, roasted garlic and rosemary crackers, biscotti made by Matthias, and baskets ready to be filled and gift-wrapped.

So what is this Pasticceria Conradi? Pasticceria is the Italian word for pastry. There may have been an Italian ancestor five generations ago or perhaps Hungarian—the name Conradi is common in Italy and Hungary. But Matthias is German, and here at the Pasticceria Conradi his German training as a pastry chef combines with his years of experience in many kitchens to give us this new eatery in town. “It is three businesses in one; a Pizzeria, a Trattoria and a Patisserie” Matthias tells me.

A pizzeria serves pizza, and a patisserie serves pastries, and a trattoria? It conjures up images of food and romance.

Gleaning words from various definitions I came up with this—casual, sophisticated, personal, upscale, family-run, seasonal, locally produced, creative dishes—always tasty. Hmm, it all seems consistent with what this Trattoria is all about. It has a mix of all these elements, in it’s looks and in it’s philosophy. Matthias is an avid supporter of the slow food movement, “only butter, oh and some olive oil… and free-range eggs.” Local Vancouver Island foods like Venison from the Seaview Game Farm in Black Creek, maple smoked bacon from Hilliards and Serious coffee from Victoria are all featured on the menu. Even some of the stainless steel shelving and counters in the kitchen were made in Tofino by the Soundcraft metal shop.

Local and family-run it is. Jessica James, born and raised in Tofino, and Matthias have plan to be married this year and their baby son Tobias was sitting at a table with his grandmother when I arrived. The building too has family connections, Matthias’s brother, a dental surgeon, who also lives in Canada, is behind that.

The path to this building and business begins in Germany.

They lived in Munich. Matthias was the youngest of twelve children, and in a family of that size, “every meal is like a banquet.” It was Matthias who always volunteered to miss church in order to cook the Sunday lunch. He was six years old when his family moved to Peru for three years. “It was my first introduction to different food cultures.” Back in Germany he didn’t fit in, he spoke Spanish better than German and was culturally different—his world had expanded.

From the age of nine or so he knew he wanted to be a chef. His parents were not overly excited about that and sent him off to do an aptitude test. At that point it was suggested to him to become a pastry chef. He was fifteen years old when he started his apprenticeship. He finished at eighteen and then went on a trip to Canada.

It was 1982, Matthias was travelling with his brother (the partner in the building.) They drove from New York up to Montreal, then did the trans Canada highway across and stopped briefly at the end, in Tofino. They parked at Long Beach and ate BBQ salmon. They joked about moving to Canada and setting up a business together—his brother, a dental practice and he a patisserie. (Zoom ahead, 2005, big building with patisserie above and dental office below—but not Matthias’s brother. Tofino is still too small to host a dental surgeon.)

Back in Germany, with the wilderness and remoteness of Canada’s west coast imprinted in his memory, Matthias went on to work for another two years in the shop where he had done his apprenticeship. Then it was the mandatory military service, he was a cook and about all he learned from the fifteen month of army duty was “drinking and cheating.” After the army Matthias took his first position in a little hotel/restaurant in the suburbs of Munich. From here he travelled to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emeritus where he worked in an European style Patisserie. And then he got accepted into the masters course for patissier—there was a long waiting list for this one year intensive program. When he finished, he spent eight years in St. Moritz, Switzerland working in two, very high-end resorts.

In 1997, on a second visit to a very changed Tofino, he went to the newly opened Wickinninnish Inn for breakfast. Sitting there in the nearly empty restaurant with a view out to sea and waves crashing against rocks, he thought this would be a good place to be. He went back to Switzerland, mailed his resume, took the cut in pay, and got the job at the Point Restaurant.

From there it was the Cafe Pamplona, and then in the interim, consulting business, before arriving at the Pasticceria Conradi with it’s “Casual counter service and quality food.”

This may well be home for Matthias and Jessica and Tobias for a long while.

The Pasticceria Conradi is open from 7am to 5pm every day.

Multitalented and creative, Jan Brubacher writes films, creates jewelry and costumes, and convincingly plays the role of mother.

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Tofino business profile of the Pasticceria Conradi in Tofino, by Jan Brubacher for Tofino Time magazine.

tofino time july 2005

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