The quickest way to my heart is through my stomach. When I met up with Michelle to chat, she had a piece of cake and a cup of tea ready for me. Yum.

You may remember Michelle from the City Market – she opened Sisters Italian restaurant! You may remember her from Saint John City Council, she was elected Deputy Mayor under Norm McFarlane. Now you will remember her as the curator of Italian eats at the Urban Deli.

Read on!

{ Michelle in her kitchen. Photo by Kelly Lawson }

Hi Michelle! Tell me about yourself and what you do!

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t think about cooking. I was 5 years old when Mom and Dad gave me an Easy Bake Oven…poor Dad! He choked down every nasty little cake that I made! I was a latch-key kid. It was my job to prepare our family’s week night suppers from the time that I was 10 years old. I remember sitting in grade school thinking about what I would cook for supper. It was no hardship to me. I loved being in the kitchen…nothing has changed. I rarely cook for myself. If I am alone, a box of Kraft dinner and a beer does me fine . For me, cooking is an expression of love. I cook for the people that I love to spend time with.

*From her Website

You’ve been keeping a secret in Saint John for almost a year.

How did Liz approach you?

About two years ago, my husband Ralph and I went for lunch at the Urban Deli. The owner, Liz Rowe served us. As we were leaving, she told me that she was really interested in Italian food and wondered if she could ‘pick my brain’. She knew that I had developed Sister’s Italian Foods in the City Market. I told her that I would love to talk ‘Italian’ with her and left her to get in touch with me. I did not hear from her so I figured she was just making small talk. A year later, we were at the Deli again when Liz asked if I was still willing to chat with her. I no longer thought she was serious but said, ‘you have my number’. She called the next day.

{ Michelle and Liz in the kitchen. Photo by Michelle’s Dad }

Surprise! You’re not only coming up with the concept and the menu, you’re going to be cooking.

How did that come about?

We planed to meet the following evening at my home for, what I thought would be, an hour long chat. Five hours later, I had agreed to spend the next three months teaching Liz to cook ‘Italian.’ We met two to three times a week for three-hour sessions. She was very serious and learned very quickly. Beyond our cooking lessons, Liz also hired me to develop a menu for her ‘dream Italian restaurant’. She did not want North American style Italian. She is passionate about offering authentic Italian food. I loved working on this project. When I finished, I thought that would be the end of our business relationship. Three months later she presented me with a concept that she had seen in New York City. A deli by day that serves Italian food in the evening. A tiny little place with seating for less than 20 people! I understood immediately what she was thinking. Brilliant – Capitalize on your investment. I loved it! Then she said, ‘but there is one thing – I want you in the kitchen.’ I was stunned. I had retired three years earlier. I was considering running for council again. I was spending a lot of time on my blog. I was not thinking of cooking professionally again. I took some time to digest her offer. It felt right so here we are.

{ Sisters in the Saint John City Market. Painting by Jack Bishop }

You have entrepreneurship in your blood.

Tell me about the businesses you’ve created and operated in Saint John and in NYC!

I opened my first business in 1982 on King St. It was an aerobics exercise studio. One year later, I opened Body Electric Aerobics at 626 Broadway in New York City. I returned home to Saint John five years later and opened a catering business called Larkspur and Sage with my best friend Christie McDonald. My twin daughters Kaitie and Meaghan were 10 months old when we landed our first job. We used to show up at our catering jobs with a super sized playpen and two adorable little girls in tow. When I think back on it, probably not the most professional way to present ourselves…but the food rocked! In 1992, I opened The Secret Garden in the centre aisle of the City Market specializing in fresh and dried floral arrangements. I sold The Secret Garden in 2001. In 1999, I opened Sister’s Italian Food. A small Italian gourmet take out and grocery store. I offered house made pastas, sauces, breads, salads, sandwiches and pizzas along with imported Italian groceries, meats and cheeses. I had a ball! I sold Sister’s in 2005. Both establishments continue to thrive today.

On you’re blog, Bite by Michelle, you’ve said that cooking is a social thing for you.

Who do you write to?

I starting blogging in April 2011. I write to my daughters. When the girls were little, they loved me telling them stories about our family. Bitebymichelle.com started out as recipes only and somehow morphed into what it is today.

{ Michelle’s Farm }

What is a typical day like for you? What is your dream day?

Sigh…sadly my personality has never allowed me to have a typical day. Every day is a mystery tour! A dream day would be to have Ralph and my daughters all to myself for three weeks on the island of Milos. Is it OK that my day is three weeks? lol

Just for fun….

What is your favourite song right now?

My favorite song – too many to list

What book are you reading?

I am in 2 book clubs. I am reading When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

What is the one cookbook every “chef” should have?

The Joy of Cooking– great reference book

What television show are you currently addicted to?

Downton Abbey

What is your “comfort food”?

Potato Scallop

{ Michelle’s Pantry }

What’s next?

All of my life I have lived in the moment giving very little thought to ‘what’s next’ As long as I am happy doing what I am doing, I am content.

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Thanks, Michelle!

To stay up on all of the news, follow Michelle’s blog at http://www.BitebyMichelle.com

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