The Story of Chef Michel Fronteddu and Trattoria Timone.
Childhood dreams are a thing of beauty. Nothing is impossible when you’re a child and all of your goals seem very much within your grasp. It is a rare occurrence for this feeling of achievability to continue into adulthood, but that is exactly what happened for Chef Michel Fronteddu, owner and head chef for Trattoria Timone in Oakville, Ontario.
Since Fronteddu was a young boy, he has always been fascinated by the world of fine cooking. Experimenting with flavours and recipes is his passion, and this dates back to when he was a child growing up in a traditional Italian household in Acton, Ontario.
Fronteddu’s dream was to become a spectacular chef. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and for Fronteddu his chef career began as a solution to a problem he encountered when he was just a teenager.
“When I was very young, about 14, I used to always bother my father for money. I wanted to go play pinball and video games at the arcade. As an old-school Italian father, he wasn’t interested in giving me money to waste on games and told me that if that’s what I wanted to do, I needed to get a job,” explains Fronteddu.
Just down the street from Fronteddu’s home was a local restaurant, Jack Tanner’s Tables. One day, on a whim, Fronteddu popped inside to see if they were looking for any extra help. To his surprise and delight, the establishment hired him on for his first job as a dishwasher.
The restaurant could hold up to 250 people inside its walls, and there was rarely an empty seat to be found. While Fronteddu’s title may have been dishwasher, it wasn’t long before the opportunity to move forward presented itself.
“A lot of the time one of the chefs would want the night off so they’d come to me and ask me to cover their shift. The head chef wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I convinced him to give me a shot. I told him whatever it took, I’d learn,” Fronteddu explains.
Fronteddu devoted the next three years of his life to playing multiple roles within the restaurant and gaining chef experience wherever he could. By the time he turned 17, he had mastered each position within the restaurant and was performing better than the actual chefs themselves.
His growth was something to be admired, but Fronteddu knew this was only the beginning. When he turned 18, he enrolled himself into the Humber College chef apprenticeship program. Grateful for all the opportunities that Jack Tanner’s Tables had given him, Fronteddu chose to complete this program through the restaurant.
He spent another two years with Jack Tanner’s Tables while he finished up school, and after six years with this establishment, he knew it was time to turn the page onto a new chapter in his life.
“Once you realize you’ve absorbed everything you can from one place, its time to move. You need to get more experience and try different things whenever you can,” Fronteddu says.
Fronteddu spent the next few years exploring a number of different paths for his future. He dabbled in high-volume cooking at a banquet hall at the Mohawk Racetrack, which helped him develop a strong attention to detail and his own management style. Afterward, he spent a year in British Columbia working at two specialty niche restaurants in Vancouver. It was there that he gained a strong understanding behind the art of French cooking and the delicacy of technical Italian cooking.
When Fronteddu returned home after his West Coast exploration, he worked in both Mississauga and Toronto for a few years expanding his résumé even further. He was even fortunate enough to work alongside well-known Toronto chef Greg Coulliard at a restaurant called China Blues.
“Greg Coulliard was the chef of Toronto at the time,” Fronteddu explains.
After China Blues shut down it was re-opened as a restaurant called Gypsy’s where Fronteddu continued to work. It was around the same time that he was finally introduced to Trattoria Timone in 1992. An old colleague of his reached out to him while he was still working with Coulliard about a new opportunity. At this point in time, Trattoria Timone was located in downtown Oakville and was not the high-end Italian restaurant it is today. It was a dated atmosphere with an unorganized kitchen staff that produced lackluster meals.
Rather than run in the other direction, Fronteddu saw the potential in this opportunity and wanted to take this broken brand and turn it into something great. He set strict terms that needed to be met in order for him to come on board, which included an entire kitchen renovation and a brand new menu crafted entirely by him. They were all met, and Fronteddu eagerly took over and revolutionized Trattoria Timone to bring it into the 21st century.
“Slowly but surely, my style of doing things caught on. The meals improved drastically because we were no longer focused on quantity but quality. Everything was made fresh and from scratch with beautiful presentation,” Fronteddu explains.
The new success began to take a snowball effect. The first year saw more business than ever before, and the second saw even more than the first. By the end of the Fronteddu’s second year with Trattoria Timone he had helped increase their net profit by $300,000.
Ten years later, the restaurant had become well known throughout the GTA. It had a warm atmosphere with fantastic food and a strong staff behind it. Looking back at where the restaurant was and where he had taken it made Fronteddu confident he could handle his next move on the career playing board.
He approached the current owner to test the waters about purchasing Trattoria Timone for himself.
“Allen was an older guy, and you could tell he was ready to take a back seat and I just wanted him to know I was interested. Every chef dreams of owning a restaurant of their own one day,” explains Fronteddu. Just two days later, Allen returned to Fronteddu and agreed that it was time to pass the torch. By the end of the year in 2002 Trattoria Timone was in Fronteddu’s possession and had never been more successful.
“We were packed and lined-up out the door almost every night. We had to turn people away every Friday and Saturday,” Fronteddu explains.
In 2005, Fronteddu was eager for even more growth, but unfortunately downtown Oakville could not accommodate. He was able to find a new venue that satisfied his hunger for expansion. The new and current Trattoria Timone is located at 2091 Winston Park Drive in Oakville, a space nearly four times the size of its original location.
Michel Fronteddu now holds the record in Oakville for head chef at the same restaurant. He has been with Trattoria Timone for 23 years, and is grateful for how far he’s come and the success of his brand. The restaurant business can be challenging, and Fronteddu has worked for two different restaurants that have not lasted.
“I’ve learned a lot throughout my career about how to deal with both success and failure. You have to know what it feels like to fail or else you’ll never be driven enough to succeed,” he explains.
While the success of Trattoria Timone has been astounding over the years, Fronteddu’s thirst for growth will never be quenched. He continues to travel world wide in search of inspiration to enhance his menu and is currently planning a complete interior renovation for the venue to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of restaurant design.
For more information please visit: www.trattoriatimone.ca