Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Not making any dough here

Chef says he was fired, eatery doors closed

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One of the city's most celebrated restaurants is closed after staff walked out Friday when the head chef was fired.

Scott Bagshaw, who ran the kitchen at Pizzeria Gusto on Academy Road, said he was fired Friday afternoon after the eatery's owners read a story Bagshaw shared with a Winnipeg writer about a "two-day bender" while working in Australia almost eight years ago.

Bagshaw says he was fired and was asked to finish out his shift. Instead, he and his kitchen staff walked out.

"We walked out in solidarity," Bagshaw said. "The restaurant is still closed. They don't even have a dishwasher, they've got nothing.

"The intellectual property of the recipes, they don't have that either. They've got a menu but they don't have a way to recreate it," he said.

Pizzeria Gusto co-owner Don Mottola declined comment Sunday evening. Several calls and messages left to co-owner Bobby Mottola went unreturned by press time.

The pizzeria is a popular restaurant and many local and national food magazines laud Bagshaw as one of the top chefs in Winnipeg.

Cook Tara Podaima and sous-chef Matt Withoos were working Friday and walked out with Bagshaw, Podaima said.

"I was prepping in the kitchen. Scott came to work and came into the kitchen to let us know he had arrived and then went out to the front. He came back five minutes later and told me he was fired," said Podaima, who had worked for Bagshaw for over a year. "We told (Matt) what happened, got changed, packed up, and headed out the door.

"It wasn't really a question in our mind whether we would go with him or not," Podaima said.

Podaima said the other kitchen staff didn't show up for work later that night or on Saturday. The restaurant is normally closed Sunday.

A hand-written sign on the restaurant door says that it is closed for the evening and apologizes for any inconvenience.

In the story about his experiences in Australia, Bagshaw, 36, details a party romp he was taken on by his then-boss after working 23 straight 16-hour days. Bagshaw went to party after party for two days straight over a weekend, without sleep, before returning to work on the Monday. The story happened in 2002, while he was working at Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro in Australia.

"The (Pizzeria Gusto) owners came in after they saw it and said I misrepresented what the restaurant was about and what it needed to represent," Bagshaw said.

"I don't see how (the story) would damage the restaurant," he said. "Anything I said about the restaurant was positive and all my stories didn't take place in this restaurant, not even in this country."

In August 2008, Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft gave the restaurant four and a half stars out of five; the same year, Where magazine named the restaurant one of the top 10 in Canada.

Bagshaw's Australian story is published in an upcoming book about Winnipeg chefs called The Last Crumb, written by Red River College student Rhéanne Marcoux, who wrote, designed and self-published the book as part of a year-long project. Only 100 copies were printed, and Marcoux is still trying to line up stores and restaurants to sell it.

"My intentions when writing this book were to get Winnipeg chefs the acknowledgment and proper recognition they deserve," Marcoux wrote in an email. "I never could have anticipated this. I was shocked and really bothered by it all," she said.

Added Bagshaw: "She wanted stories about chefs being chefs -- the crazy stories about how we live and how we think. (Bobby) was aware about the book, he knew what was happening and he was all for it," Bagshaw said.

matt.preprost@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2010 A4

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