TORONTO — The Italian Chamber of Commerce launched its inaugural conference, IT@CA, linking Italy and Canada together last week at Toronto’s Design Exchange. More than 200 executives from varied industries attended the day-long celebration of Italian culture and its impact on the world.
The speakers, represented many different industries and appealed to the event’s wide range of attendees, regardless of background, occupation or areas of interest. Among the keynote speakers at the day-long gathering were Italian winemaker Angela Gaja, photographer Oliviero Toscani and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti.
“Traditionally, relations between Italy and Canada have been excellent, politically, as well as at the commercial, cultural and scientific levels,” said Claudio Taffuri, Ambassador of Italy to Canada. “With IT@CA our goal is to offer a new opportunity to get to know our country, from the perspective and through the stories of seven successful women and men from different sectors, who will share with the Canadian public their vision of Italy today: modern, dynamic, ready for innovation and with a wealth of excellence in all fields.”
Sharing his story, Gaja, owner and president of Gaja Wineries in the Piedmonte region of Italy, who at close to 80 years old still leads one of the world’s great wineries, producing some of the region’s most famed wines — Barolo and Barbaresco — recounted how his grandmother pushed his grandfather to get into the wine business and spoke about how he and his family have “grown the business beyond his ancestors’ goals.”
Gaja also noted that his region of Italy has the most Michelin-star restaurants (15) of any other region. He also spoke of the importance of the artisanal tradition in Italy, noting that of the country’s 1,000 wineries, 900 are artisanal. “More than 88 per cent have less than 10 employees. Where many see this as weakness,” said Gaja, “it’s not, because they’re devoted to quality. They know their jobs perfectly and have passion — a very important ingredient. And when there is a crisis, they stay because they’re so dedicated to what they do.” Gaja told the audience that he enjoys a glass of wine at lunch and at dinner. “It makes the food taste better,” he quipped.
Weeks before Eataly is set to open in Toronto — its first outpost in Canada — Farinetti took to the stage to speak about the importance of “thinking local, but going global.” As founder of the global food emporium, Farinetti said much of why he decided to bring the Italian food concept to the world was driven by the strong brand identity that Italy has in the world. He took to the stage, drawing a map of Italy on a white flipboard, “Italy is the only country in the world that is so recognizable,” he said, pointing to the shape of the boot it represents. “It houses 55 UNESCO sites, more than any other country,” and is number-1 in the world for art. On the food side, “We have 538 varieties of olives, 1,200 different grapes to make wine and 1,000 species of apples.” And, he said, proximity to the sea and hills gives it one of the most unique micro climates in the world. With November 13 set as the opening day of Eataly in Toronto, Farinetti is looking forward to his 40th location, saying “Toronto is the capital of bio-diversity with 250 ethnic groups living here. This is the future of humanity.”