Well-known Sault chef Arturo is still cooking and loving it

Well-known Sault chef Arturo is still cooking and loving it

Arturo Comegna is proud of his food, work ethic and the stamp he has left on the Sault culinary scene. Many customers proposed in his elegant restaurants

Arturo Comegna is a well-known Sault chef and restaurant owner who has no plans to slow down.

“Not yet,” Comegna said, hospitably pouring a cup of coffee and providing a plate of cookies, when SooToday asked if he planned to retire.

“Sometimes my body tells me to retire, but my brain says ‘what else are you going to do?’ I’ve been doing this for 55 years.”

Comegna came to Canada from Casoli — located in Italy’s Abruzzo region — in the late 1970s, married and settled in the Sault.

“I started working in a steel mill, but it wasn’t my type of work. I’ve only done restaurant work all my life. When I was 12 years old, I worked as a waiter. So I left my job at the steel mill and went to work at Rico’s Restaurant,” Comegna said.

Comegna bought Rico’s in 1982 — aware of the long days and the risk any entrepreneur faces — and ran it until 1990.

“I always wanted to have a restaurant since childhood. I liked what I was doing. They wanted to sell Rico’s, so I bought it,” Comegna recalled.

“I was a little scared, but not that much. I guess I was too young to worry. When you’re young, you don’t worry so much. I thought to myself ‘I came to Canada with nothing, what’s the worst that could happen to me?’ I had nothing and would return with nothing. But I knew I wanted to work and I liked what I was doing.’

“It was a lot of work, and the Sault was a tough town at the time because they didn’t understand my food. I was different because I didn’t do the usual chicken and ribs and pasta and meatballs.’

Not a fan of pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, Comegna passionately and humorously describes his own view of what Italian food is and how it should be served.

“In every region in Italy, the food is different from the other regions. Italian food is not just chicken and potatoes.’

“Real Italian food is different in every region in Italy. In the south it’s eggplant, lots of tomatoes, zucchini and oranges, while in Abruzzo there’s lots of lamb and artichokes, and as you go north you have more cheese, pork and beef,” Comegna told SooToday in a 2018 interview.

After Rico, Arturo opened a business called Mr. Takeout.

Disliking takeout, he went to Southern Ontario in the mid-1990s and worked outside the restaurant business, but later decided he wanted to return to his chosen profession and opened Arturo Ristorante in the late 1990s.

Opening on Gore Street – Arturo Ristorarante later moved to Queen Street, now owned by his sons Tom and Chris – the chef eventually opened Antico Ristorante on Village Court in the middle of a residential area north of the intersection of McNabb and Lake.

“The restaurant was a struggle at times. I didn’t change anything. I said I cook it. I didn’t want to sell pizza, panzerotti, minestrone soup. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to food, my way.”

“I think what happened in those days was The Food Network came along and people got excited about watching food shows. And then I came in, a lot of people remembered me from Rico’s and said ‘we got a guy in Sault Ste. Marie, who can do the same thing as The Food Network’ and Arturo Ristorante just hit Gore Street.”

“I like doing this. I don’t want to be anywhere but in the kitchen. I’ll do it as long as I can.”

Comegna – and the restaurants he owned and operated – Rico’s, Arturo Ristorarante and Antico – became synonymous with quality Italian food in Sault Ste. Marie.

“I love it. I love that my kids have taken over Arturo Ristorante. They’re good kids. I’m proud of them.”

“My kids were older, so I said ‘if you want to buy it, I’ll do something else,'” Comegna said of his choice to move on and start Antico Ristorante.

He paints to relax.

The walls of Antico Ristorante are decorated with art, most of the colorful paintings created by Arturo himself.

“I don’t paint as much as I used to, but it’s in my blood.” The painting is something that pleases me, but I am a cook. I don’t make money from painting,” he laughed.

His personal favorite foods include meat and seafood such as octopus.

Over the years, many wedding proposals have appeared in his posh restaurants.

“We’ve seen a lot of them over the years. It makes me feel good that they chose us for special occasions that they will remember for the rest of their lives. After 40 years they still tell me ‘hey Art, remember I got engaged at table three at Rico’s?’ or “I proposed to my wife at table four.” They still remember the table number. Now I am serving their children and that makes me feel good.”

Comegno’s reputation as a chef was recognized in the Ontario legislature by Sault MPP Ross Roman shortly after he was elected to provincial office.

“Mr. Speaker, I am very excited today to highlight my incredible constituent, Arturo Comegna, owner and chef of Antico Ristorante in Sault Ste. Marie,” Romano said on the occasion.

“Arturo was highlighted by the LCBO during their Winter Recipes and Northern Ontario Chef Profile. The profile was done in the style of a master chef competition, where Arturo created a Cornflake Crusted Arctic Char Fillet on a Beet Apple Salad, paired with Creekside Sauvignon Blanc.

“Mr. Comegna first got his passion for cooking at age 12 when he started waiting tables, and at the age of 60, Arturo’s passion for cooking is as strong as ever.”

“He’s a very well-known restaurateur in Sault Ste. Marie and someone I really care about. I love to eat there and welcome everyone when you are in Sault Ste. Marie, come to Antico and you will get great food,” Romano said in a speech that was followed by applause in the Legislature.

“That was great,” Comegna told SooToday after watching a video of Romano’s speech on his laptop.

No one can doubt Comegna’s work ethic.

“It’s a way of life.” I can’t call in sick. If I don’t die, I will appear. That’s how it is. It’s a matter of life. Now you have to get off. Now. It’s not tomorrow or next week.”

Comegna has some strong advice for anyone who wants to become a truly professional chef.

“Being a good cook takes years. After 40 years, I’m still learning. Anyone who wants to be a real chef, I say get out of town. Go work in Europe. Get room and board, work hard and learn for five, six, 10 years, then come back to the Sault and open a really good restaurant. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant looks beautiful. All people remember is the food and the waitress being nice to them. Anyone who wants to be a chef, go away and learn.”

Comegna emphasized that he has no plans to retire.

“When I’m ready, I’ll probably lock the door and say goodbye,” he laughed.

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