Chef Spotlight Series: Vincent Capitano, Island Chef Pepper Co

Chef Spotlight Series: Vincent Capitano, Island Chef Pepper Co

Vincent Capitano is a busy man. The Certified Chef de Cuisine is Victoria’s Culinary Federation president, an organization working to unite chefs and cooks across Canada in a common dedication to professional excellence. He was the Executive Sous Chef at The Government House, started his own Capitano Catering company, and is now the owner-operator of Island Chef Pepper Co, making hot sauces for the masses! After building a VIHA kitchen in his own home Chef Vince launched his sauces into major retailers, all while being a dad to two young boys and working towards his goal of being the 6th Certified Master Chef in Canada. Learn what drives Chef Vince and try out his recipe for Blackened Albacore Tuna Tacos.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
My Nonna is a huge inspiration to me when it comes to cooking and why I became a chef. She has no formal training, just experience cooking for her family and banquet halls in Toronto. Green thumb in her garden, no product has ever come close to tasting the same as what comes out of her garden. I equate food to family and family is my number one priority which is why I am so passionate about my craft.

What are some of your favourite kitchen tools (other than knives)?
1) A wooden gnocchi board with a dowel to make penne as well. It’s very niche, but there is something fun about flinging dough off of it.
2) Scoop spatula, low key an MVP in the kitchen and they are getting rarer to find.
3) ISI Siphon, for those that don’t know it’s a fancy whipped cream cannister that you can do a lot of fun molecular gastronomy in. From carbonated fruits to specialty mousses.

What inspired you to start your business?
I would love to say that it was some vision of greatness that I had one day to fine-tune my spicy adventures, but honestly, it’s a lot more accidental than anything. I am a huge fan of the YouTube Show Hot Ones and I really wanted to see if I could handle the gauntlet so I decided to make my own version of that season’s lineup by deconstructing the hot sauces from their ingredients lists.

It was a really fun experiment and we actually featured all 10 of those hot sauces at a booth at Brewery and the Beast. People absolutely adored the sauces so I decided to make another batch to sell through the Culinary Federation of Victoria as a fundraiser. The sauces were once again very well received so I decided to make it into a full-blown business.

What has been the most challenging part of your business?
Being a company of 1. We have not yet hit the level yet to justify other full-time employees so a lot of the burden falls solely onto me. We have started bringing in 1 or 2 people on the odd occasion now to help with production to alleviate some of that strain, but starting up a business on your own has been no joke.

My sons Henry and Oliver and turning 3 and 1 respectively in March and it’s been a wild ride to do this while being a new father. Henry is always very excited to help and has even started to help put on the caps of some bottles. I have relinquished control of our social media to my wife, Vicky. So, all of the great pictures and posts you see are her great handiwork.

Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome to open your business?
Finding a consistent, affordable place to do our production was probably the biggest obstacle. Housing isn’t the only issue that Victoria is having, its commercial real estate as well. We scraped by for the first year with an arrangement at Camosun College, but as we grew and policies there changed it just wasn’t something both parties saw continuing.

Our solution? We built a commercial kitchen in the in-law suite of our home. Fully inspected by VIHA and officially the only residential home that gets deliveries from restaurant wholesalers. 

What advice would you give to chefs wanting to transition from restaurant cooking to owning a product-based business? 
Go for it. Need a space to do it? Need tips or resources? Reach out to me. I started my business on the basis of helping people and I am devoted to being a resource for my community.

What is your favourite thing to do on your day off?
Enjoy time with my family, cook something new or an old favourite that takes time and effort.

What plans do you have for the future? What are your professional goals?
Well, our starting year was 4 hot sauces, 2 jellies. We expanded to 6 sauces and 3 jellies, BBQ rubs. For our 3rd market season, we are about to pop off. 6 hot sauces, 3 pepper jellies, 1 pepper antipasto spread, 4 spice blends, 2 buffalo sauces, 2 BBQ sauces, fresh sausages, pepperoni sticks, traditional andouille and cornbread.

We are slowly growing into grocery stores across BC. Most recently we were picked up by Sobeys (Thrifty’s and Safeway) and are being listed in Sysco to be provided by your favourite restaurants in BC.

As for professional goals I only have one more mountain to climb. Over the last few years, I had the wonderful opportunity to extensively cook for the Royal Family during their visit in 2016 as well as represent our country at the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany with a team, winning a gold medal that same year. Recently I just acquired my Certified Chef de Cuisine (CCC) designation. It is the level above Red Seal in cooking and it means that I am officially a Chef by title, not by employment. It was an incredibly difficult journey that has a significantly low pass rate and I am quite happy that I was one of the few successful candidates this year. For perspective, there are less than a handful of active CCC chefs on Vancouver Island and maybe a couple hundred that have been accredited since its inception in 1980.

The last hurdle for me is achieving my Certified Master Chef title. There are currently only 5 in Canada and I hope to make that 6 in about 5 years.

What are your passions and interests outside of cooking?
I love working with my hands and growing a lot of what we use for the company and what my family eats. I grew up as a son of a carpenter and my father gave me the skills to be able to create things and be self-sufficient when it comes to home projects.

In my off time, I am usually gardening, foraging or fishing.

What is your favourite restaurant to dine at in Victoria?
When it comes to dining out for me it is less about the food and more about the experience. This one isn’t in Victoria, but I will give the Alpina Restaurant a special shout-out as my go-to for special occasions. Jack the Manager and Mario the Chef always give my family a wonderful experience.

If I had to choose a Victoria proper restaurant, I used to love getting brunch at Vista 18. No lines, good food, best view. As you can imagine we haven’t made it out for brunch in a while with the two kids, but there is hope!

What was the best meal you ever had? Where did you enjoy it?
The best meal I ever had was at Alinea in Chicago, it was a 3.5-hour delicious experience that always had you on your toes and was as much theater as it was great food. After the meal, I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the kitchen and got to talk with the chefs about food, where else to go eat and got an autographed Alinea cookbook.

Blackened Albacore Tuna Tacos

Pickled Vegetables, Avocado, West Coast Classic Aioli, Micro Cilantro
Makes 24

• BC Albacore Tuna, 1 loin (sashimi grade)
• Cucumber, 1 medium English cucumber
• Radish, 4 radishes
• Daikon, 1 small daikon radish
• Avocado, 2 ripe
• Leforts’ Creole Spice Blend, ¼ cup (enough to coat the tuna loins)
• West Coast Classic, ¼ cup
• Mayo, 1 cup
• White Wine Vinegar, 3 cups
• Water, 1 cup
• Sugar, 2 cups
• Salt, to taste
• Micro Cilantro, to garnish
• Dumpling Wrappers, 1 pack

1. Trim tuna loin into two rectangular strips, coat in creole spice and place on a wire rack. Once coated and on the wire rack, use a kitchen torch to blacken the entirety of the loin and place it into the fridge to set.
2. Prepare vegetables for pickling. Use a mandolin if you have or slice thinly in whatever shape you find is fun. In the recipe was made tiny cubes known as brunoise. As long as its thin and is bite size you’re golden. When they are done, place them all together in a heat safe container.
3. Prepare the pickling liquid by placing the water, vinegar and sugar in a pot and bringing to a boil. Once boiled and all of the sugar and salt is dissolved you can pour the liquid over the vegetables to “quick” pickle them.
4. Prepare the dumpling wrappers by frying them until they are puffy and golden. If you don’t have a fancy taco form for your deep dryer that is okay. You can fry them flat and call them tostadas instead.
5. Mix together the mayo and the classic to create your spicy sauce.
6. Remove the tuna from the fridge and cut ¼ inch slices for your shells.
7. Roughly mash up the avocados and mix them together with the strained pickled vegetables.
8. Assemble all of the finished ingredients on your crispy shell and enjoy a fresh west coast snack!

Written by

Amy Ayer

Guest Writer