Norm Pastorin – Cornerstone

chefnorman

A Place To Call Home

At The Cornerstone, high calibre cooking in a comfortable setting shows how food creates common ground.

By Arvel Gray

Chef Norm Pastorin’s decision to enter the culinary world began with a hot dog.
In 1999, the graduate of the Asper School of Business was working for an advertising agent in Manilla, Philippines. One of the clients was a food company that needed a campaign to showcase its hot dogs to home cooks.
He still remembers the mouth-watering aromas wafting from the food lab and the choreographed efforts of a team of chefs turning simple fare into something memorable and beautiful.

Creating unforgettable food has become a mantra for the 42-year-old chef. He never regrets his life-altering decision to abandon marketing, enrol in Culinary Arts at Red River College, and carve a niche in Winnipeg’s culinary scene by using food as a catalyst for community.
These days, chef Norm can be found pouring over a binder of hand written recipes at The Cornerstone, a pillar of bustling Osborne Village that blurs the line between fine and casual dining. On any given night, the place is packed with locals drawn by an engaging food and bar menu and a convivial atmosphere as welcoming as a family kitchen.
This philosophy of food as an anchor for community was fostered during a visit to France. Dining with friends every night reminded the chef of the Sunday night pot lucks of his childhood, when his large extended Filipino family would gather over traditional foods. “Everything I was exposed to made me realize that food and wine is such an inherent part of defining our culture,” he says. “I started to see it as a conduit for people to interact, socialize, and celebrate.”
Norm has taken this notion one step further by offering a menu that reflects the multicultural make up of the city. On this culinary common ground, Moroccan lamb shank might share the table with butter chicken, Greek-style burgers, and pork belly with spicy adobo sauce. “At a time when restaurants wanted to have a set of offerings for a particular demographic, we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to be something for everybody,” he says.
His talent for combining cultural techniques and flavours has impressed more than the locals; it earned him accolades at the prestigious Gold Medal Plates competition, in the form of silver and gold medals. He wowed the judges in 2015 with a confit of salmon topped with bacon, quinoa, salmon roe, and pickled shallots, resting on a delicate Japanese omelette. The hip hop devotee equates his revamped recipes to remixing music, like his fried chicken sandwich with the fixings from a Vietnamese bahn mi, or pickerel a la munière reproduced with the addition of caper brine and deep fried capers for crunch.
The French classic was one of the first dishes he learned to prepare when he began his career at the St Charles Country Club, under the tutelage of culinary legend Takashi Murakami. Norm went on to cook at Sputino’s for four years, followed by a short-lived but intense run at Fazzo on Corydon. That’s where he met and cemented a friendship with his now-business partner Miles Gould.
Three months after the demise of Fazzo, Miles called to say he and his wife Danielle had an opportunity to open The Grove in the heart of Crescentwood, and asked Norm to join them. Their Brit-inspired pub and restaurant soon became a neighbourhood gathering place, solidifying Norm’s reputation for drawing diners with upgraded traditional favourites.
When the iconic Papa George’s restaurant on the busy intersection of River and Osborne closed its doors after 35 years in business, the The Grove team was approached to replicate the restaurant’s success. “I told Miles, we have to do it,” says Norm. “It’s going to be tight, but we have to take a chance.”
A rarity for a young business, expanding to a second location was seamless. Norm and Miles were able to draw on the talents of Norm’s wife, Kristel, to take over as head chef at The Grove. The Red River Culinary Arts grad and pastry chef, who also trained under Chef Murakami at St. Charles, brought experience from eight years helping to build the fine dining reputation of Sydney’s at The Forks.
While The Cornerstone’s principles and ambiance mirror The Grove, efforts were made to keep the location distinct through its industrial, loft-like décor of muted colours, brick accents, and polished stainless steel. An open kitchen showcases a tight-knit, collegial team clearly in love with its craft.
The inviting atmosphere has also drawn an unexpected clientele: industry colleagues who want to unwind after a hard day. Long after other kitchens have closed, The Cornerstone is open, offering fellowship and delicious fusion fare.
As the holidays approach and Winnipeggers seek a spot for impromptu gatherings or respite from the crush of shopping, The Cornerstone will continue to draw in crowds. Like a family pot luck or a meal with friends, this local gem offers a place to call home, encouraging memories made with a glass of wine and a soulful plate of food.

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