The Marvellous Mercato
Food Services Manager Tim D’Souza brings his creativity and business acumen to Brescia and the results are delicious!
Written by: Pat Morden
Tim D’Souza is not your typical cafeteria manager. But then the Mercato is not your typical cafeteria. As second year student Rachel Ogilvie puts it, “It’s like walking into a restaurant every day.”
That’s not surprising, given D’Souza’s background. The son of an Indian father and a mother from Labrador, he grew up in a household where food was a big part of family life. As a school kid, he got up early and made breakfast for the family. On Fridays he often prepared his mother’s recipe for fish cakes, so dinner was waiting when she got home from work.
He studied history in university, but spent a lot of time finding and experimenting with new recipes. His friends were often treated to elaborate theme dinner parties. After his degree he trained at George Brown College in Toronto and then worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and England. He returned to Toronto and made a name for himself at several high-end restaurants. His mentor was Chef Nigel Didcock, executive chef at the Sutton Place Hotel and later the Granite Club. “He taught me that wherever you go and whatever you do, you have to keep building every day,” says D’Souza. “Improvement won’t happen overnight, but if you keep raising the standards, you’ll get there.”
D’Souza carried those wise words with him when he joined a struggling roadhouse in Thornbury, Ontario. He turned it into a foodie destination, earning a rave review from Toronto Life Magazine. Wanting his daughter to grow up close to her grandparents, he relocated to London and became executive chef at the Idlewyld Inn, a boutique hotel in London’s south end. He was exploring the possibility of opening his own restaurant when he saw that Brescia was advertising for a food service manager. Curious, he applied. During the interview he displayed both his passion for food and his understanding of the realities of the food business. “I read about food every day – it’s an obsession,” he says. “I realized that I’d never done anything this big before, so I was intrigued.”
D’Souza thrives on the challenges of the university environment. “We have to provide value for our students ,” he says. “I can’t offer a $16 main course here, but I come from a background where $42 mains weren’t out of the ordinary. At the same time, you don’t want to give up on being creative and introducing new flavours.” The Mercato offers a global section with 40 dishes offered on a revolving basis. The pasta, pierogi and mac-and-cheese bars are perennial favourites. D’Souza and his staff also offer carefully-prepared gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian and Halal options. He admits that the kitchen is equipped with a deep fryer: “Sometimes students want French fries or chicken fingers!”
Ottawa native Ogilvie doesn’t get home often, so she eats most of her meals at the Mercato. “You know you’re getting really high quality food, and they’ll help you find anything you need,” she says. “It’s clean and the staff are friendly. It’s a very nice overall feel.” She admits the pasta bar is her favourite, especially the stuffed cheese pasta, but says there are always a variety of healthy foods. “You go into Foods class and learn about all the right foods to eat, and then you know you can go into the Mercato and get those foods.”