Craving a tasty plate of pasta and a really good cup of espresso for lunch? Head to Caffe La Tana on Commercial Drive, where chef Letitia Wan (formerly of Ask for Luigi and Di Beppe) heads up an Italian-driven menu. Here, she tells us all about her food-focused background, and whether she likes her noodles fresh or packaged! —Noa Nichol
Hi Letitia! Please tell us a bit about your (foodie) self!
I don’t think I’ve ever called myself a foodie, but it’s a consuming passion for sure. My partner is also a chef, so our "stuff" is half outdoor gear and half cooking paraphernalia (and spending). I enjoy the craft of it and finding out where/why/how. Beyond Italian food culture and history, I enjoy exploring how food affects our health/mood performance, holistic nutrition, how it affects our environment, exploring local sources such as foraging in the woods, beaches, etc.
From Hong Kong to Italian cooking on Commercial Drive—tell us about that journey.
My childhood in Hong Kong was unconventional: we lived in a car-free family friendly neighborhood and attended international schools before moving to Vancouver. I settled in the Commercial Drive area about five years ago, so I actually live nearby Little Italy—I was drawn to this area after living in different hoods in Vancouver, North Shore and Squamish. I was drawn for its community vibe and easy access by bike, proximity to downtown but it is much quieter and friendlier.
Fresh vs. packaged pasta: what's the difference when it comes to cooking it in your own kitchen?
At the moment honestly, I have eight different pastas at home right now, between fresh and packaged (seven packaged, one fresh, from La Tana). Cooking at home is usually off the cuff based on whether there was a good produce haul from the farmers market or cooking out of the pantry. Every type of pasta I have is a different type (long, short, dry egg pasta, fresh, alternative grain)—I like to have variety to suit the sauce. I prefer packaged pasta due to texture/bite and variety available and can stash for impromptu meals. Semi-biased but before La Tana came around, good fresh pasta was virtually not available, and I will only occasionally (three of four times a year) make fresh pasta at home.
What do you order when you eat at Caffe La Tana? How about Pepino's?
Espresso and sfogliatelle or kale salad! (I haven’t been to Pepino’s yet but I’m a sucker for clams and linguine.)
Favourite pasta topping of all time?
Garlic, anchovy and pepperoncini.