Blog by John Miller

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Bad stereotyping

What were the editors of the Toronto Star thinking when they ran a restaurant review that potentially alienated 250,000 readers?

That's how many people in the GTA identify themselves as Italian heritage. The review, by Corey Mintz (Wining and dining like a mayor, Dec. 16), went out of its way to stereotype Basilico Ristorante, an Italian eatery in Vaughan, as a threatening and misogynistic den of crude labourers, fondlers and, perhaps, Mafioso money launderers.

The writer's pretext was to try to recreate the dining experience of troubled Vaughan mayor Linda Jackson, who once billed her municipality $300 for a dinner for three at the restaurant.

After a few catty remarks about the food, Mintz wrote: "The service may be a little patronizing. Our server asks if we know what arugula is and lays paws on the ladies. It's a very male-centric room. Besides our table, there is one woman present, out of 21 guests.

"Guys pop in for minutes at a time, picking up and dropping off envelopes and panettone. One gentleman strides into the restaurant and spends a few minutes working his way around the main table, saying hello, shaking a lot of thick hands.

"I eat in restaurants all the time and rarely do I feel any warmth that extends beyond professional courtesy. But at this Italian restaurant in Woodbridge, in a strip mall housing a Pizza Nova and a 'Canada's Best Karate' I definitely feel that I don't belong."

Well, he got that last part right. He didn't belong there and his review didn't belong in a newspaper that professes to chronicle modern life in the GTA.

The classlessness of the Star's decision to publish it stands in stark contrast to the dignified letter of complaint that Basilico's owner, Sam Primucci, wrote to Mintz and the paper. The Star published it on Dec. 20, but refused to apologize for the review. It still appears on the paper's website.

"As President and owner of Basilico Ristorante in Vaughan I would like to thank you for taking the time to visit my establishment, and as a restaurateur I accept and welcome your feedback and commentary of Basilico Ristorante, its service and most importantly its food.

"As a professional, as an Italian, as a proud Canadian citizen and significant contributor to Canadian society I do, however, not accept the stereotypical allusions that were made in your article that denigrate my patrons, the citizens of Vaughan and the entire Italian community."

Primucci said it is "second nature" to him as a business owner of Italian heritage "that upon arrival to my establishment or any public function, that I greet all with a smile and a handshake and those closest to me with a warm embrace. In the Italian culture, to not do so would be a symbol of disrespect.

"Another facet of the Italian culture that as a food critic you must be aware of is that throughout the Christmas season, Italians pay their respect to family, friends and colleagues in person, bearing Christmas cards, baked goods, bottles of wine, warm embraces and well wishes."

To the writer, Primucci wished him "happy holidays," and suggested he confine his comments to food in the future, because "your lack of integrity, respect, empathy and culture do not deem you fit to share your opinions and voice with the fine citizens of the Greater Toronto area."

Shame on the newspaper for refusing to apologize. Perhaps it needs to hear from a few more of its readers.