Armando Risa is the head chef and owner of Villa Armando in Town of Mount Royal. This italien chef traveled from Rome to London, passing by Brazil and Montreal. Today, leading his restaurant, he helps us discover authentic Italian cuisine in a beautiful bicentennial house.
Being the head chef and the owner, M. Risa has no time to spare. If he is not cooking, he is searching for new suppliers, wanting to find the best quality meats and products for his diners. Therefore, even during his break in the afternoon where the restaurant is closed from 15h00 to 17h00, following Italian tradition, this busy man is tending to his business.
After 35 years of cooking, Armando Risa is still passionate about the art of cooking and loves to create each dish. What satisfies him most about his career is when people adore what he is serving them: «When I make a dish, I make as if it were for me», he says. When the client is eating and tells me: “It’s like my mom’s cooking, it’s such a compliment.”
According to this head chef, real Italian cuisine is extremely hard to find in Montreal. «In Italy, we do not serve pasta with meat, he explains. In Italy, we eat pasta alone. The second course usually consists of meat with vegetables; no pasta!» It’s much lighter, adds the chef. To be more precise, at Villa Armando, we eat traditional roman cuisine which is different from other regions in Italy. M. Risa is well renowned for his roman oven-cooked lamb, rabbit and porc. «In Rome, we make the sauce as we are cooking», admits the chef, “nothing is prepared in advance.”
In the Risa family, cooking is a tradition past down from generation to generation. The 11 children in this family work in the restaurant business, a few of them here in Canada. Armando’s sister, Emma, the eldest of the family, is the head chef and owner of the very renowned Italian restaurant Da Emma, located in Old Montreal. «During my childhood, Emma already had a restaurant in Rome and she would ask me to help her in the kitchen on weekends», remembers Armando. Armando fell in love with cooking and decided early on that culinary school was for him. Between 1973 and 1975, Armando Risa attended the Institu Otelliero Tor Carbone, in Italy, where he received professional training in the art of cooking.
It is the second time that Armando Risa lives on the island of Montreal. «My first time, I arrived here in 1980, from London. I indeed worked 3 years at the Intercontinental hotel in London, and after, I came here. Another one of my sisters, Anna, lived here. I came for a visit and immediately loved Canada.»
In 1983, M. Risa opened his first restaurant, in downtown Montreal, corner of Peel and Sherbrooke: La Cucagna means «chance» in Italian. One year later, he opened another one, Buon Gusto in Jean-Talon market, a business he later sold to the comedian Dino Tavarone. “After, I returned to Italy for 9 years and opened many more restaurants!”, explains the chef.
At the end of the 90s, the head chef moved to Brazil and worked three years in a hotel where he offered his services as a chef for an Italian restaurant named Foccacia. He later came back to Montreal, in early 2000. I a few years ago, it is at his sister’s restaurant Da Emma that he finally encountered his «pearl» and co-owner of Villa Armando Marie-Josée Boilard. This inviting couple decided to open their restaurant in Town of Mount Royal, in a house that has history and many stories to tell.