Cooking as an Art: How Porta Via Chef-Owner Ali Found His Creativity
We arrived at Porta Via bright and early on a Friday morning and were greeted by smells of fresh herbs, a kitchen in full-swing, and Ali’s unwavering hospitality. He led us straight into the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, sharing intricate details of his past while mixing spices, chopping veggies, and preparing his catering orders for the day.
From an aircraft maintenance engineer to a restaurateur, Ali’s quest for creativity was found through fresh ingredients, healthy food and recipe-building. Porta Via, the Italian phrase for “takeaway”, was opened in 2006 to fill the gap between fast-food restaurants and fine dining. On opening his restaurant and catering business, Ali mentions that there was “nothing fresh or of good quality,” if you needed something on-the-go. With this, Ali saw an opportunity.
Initially an Italian-inspired menu, Porta Via opened to provide customers with something quick, without compromising quality of food or taste. Through listening to his customers, the Porta Via menu quickly became international fusion, focusing on high quality, healthy ingredients that were always fresh. “Everyone is going back to their roots, everyone is becoming health-conscious.” Ali mentions, which inspired the health-focused menu of Porta Via.
“The ingredients we use are real ingredients; it’s the food we were meant to eat.”
Ali has worked in the restaurant and catering industry since 1998. He worked as a bartender, a server and a catering coordinator at restaurants, banquet halls and catering companies. “I picked up a lot of experience on how to service customers properly, and how to make them happy.” This is one of the main focuses of Porta Via – to always listen to their customers. “We change our recipes according to what our customers want. Our menu is almost entirely gluten-free, we use no preservatives, and make everything from scratch.”
While working for Air Canada as an aircraft maintenance engineer, the attacks of September 11th played a key role in Ali’s career. “A lot of people were laid off after September 11th, and I was one of them. My background was in engineering and the restaurant industry.” Upon arriving at this crossroad, Ali chose the restaurant industry. He explains how growing up, he always wanted to create, and through food he has found his creative niche. “Cooking is an art,” Ali remarks, “I wouldn’t have lasted as an engineer, I wouldn’t have been able to be as creative.”
Porta Via’s catering menu is inspired by many cuisines; every week, Ali and his family dine at different restaurants to look for new ideas for his menu. When inspired, Ali returns back to his kitchen after hours and experiments with different ingredients. “Our roasted eggplant in ginger coconut curry sauce was inspired by a fine Indian restaurant in Toronto.”
Ali wears “many hats” at Porta Via; he is a business owner, a manager, ensures food is at top quality, and directs customer service. “Marketing gets left out” Ali mentions, and notes that Platterz has really helped his business in this way. As soon as he sat down with the Platterz team, he knew that he wanted to be a part of it. “Platterz understands the restaurant business very well, which is helpful for success.”
When asked what the most rewarding part of his job is, Ali explains without hesitation that “being able to create jobs and give opportunity is the most inspiring.” Ali has cultivated a positive working space for his employees – which also happens to be one of the key principles of Platterz (no wonder we work so well together)! Ali views his relationship with his employees very positively. “We are like family. If I focus on the employees, they focus on our customers, and everyone is happy.”
A humbling moment for us came when Ali spoke about how Platterz has played a defining role in his creative pursuit. “The Platterz team is so adaptable and great – they trust me, and are always willing to take on new recipes for the menu.” The Build-Your-Own Hot Meal is the best performing item on Platterz, and enables him to come up with new creative combinations and flavours for his corporate catering clientele. Ali adds that this feeds his creativity further – he’s always trying new things.
“Cooking is an art.”
While being at Porta Via, Ali and his employees treated us like a part of the family. Talk about amazing workplace culture! We were welcomed into the family, and left well-fed (the food was extraordinarily fresh and abundant with flavour, FYI), which is why we love meeting our restaurant and catering partners. Sharing food brings people together, and after learning about what led to Porta Via’s delicious success, the food tastes even better!