Valentino's Smokin Salmon
Valentino's Smokin Salmon is the new kid on the block when it comes to smoked fish, but the family-run shop has already landed on the shelves at Pusateri's, Fiesta Farms, Fresh & Wild, and and a handful of other Toronto groceries and restaurants.
The shop opened up on O'Connor at Pape this past September, moving from its former home on Laird where it spent the past three years. The mother and daughter team of Ann and Michelle Marsolais see through the entire operation, juggling research and recruitment, prep and production, as well as working the register and performing deliveries.
"We're thinking about finally recruiting someone to work full time," Michelle tells me as she walks me through the smoking process. "We have three part-timers, but when they all can't make it, like today, it's up to us to try to get everything done."
The shop produces upwards of 200 pounds of cold-smoked salmon per week. That's on top of smoked trout and fresh fish offerings including haddock, Arctic char, red snapper, and fluke. But the smoked salmon, undoubtedly, is Valentino's main sell, which starts off with sushi-grade Atlantic Salmon sourced from a sustainable farm in New Brunswick.
"We take all of the silver and grey off of it," Michelle says as she peels the skin off a slab of salmon and works it over with a knife. "This marbling here, you want that — that's where all of your Omega 3's are. But the brown is just cholesterol, and anyway, it's bitter."
"It tries to tell you it's not good for you," Ann pipes in. The smoking process is a front-of-house operation. The salmon is washed, scaled, and left in brine, then put into a clear glass smoker for about three hours, give or take. "It's a feel thing," Ann says. "You can tell when it's ready."
Valentino's started literally in Ann's backyard, where she and partner Valentino worked to hone the perfect smoked salmon recipe. "This picture," she says, pulling out a photo of Valentino at a makeshift smoker, "this was taken five days before he went into hospital." Ann says she stopped making smoked salmon after Valentino's death, but was eventually persuaded back to production by friends and family.
"Before, we were just making it for ourselves and for people we knew," Ann says. "But then I thought, I could really make a business out of it."
So Ann and her daughter began a wholesale business, and when they moved to O'Connor, added a retail market to the mix. "Really, it was just because people kept dropping looking for fresh fish," Michelle says. "A lot of what we do is based on customer requests."
That includes smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel ($5) for area workers during lunch, and prepared meals to heat and serve (sourced from caterer clients) such as whole wheat mac and cheese infused with smoked salmon ($5). But if you ask Ann and Michelle about the best way to enjoy Valentino's smoked salmon, they'll look at you deadpan and respond plainly:
"With a fork."
Photos by Morris Lum