chocolate layer cake with espresso buttercream

We were half way through service when I looked up at Liz and realized it was our anniversary. Five years ago, on Valentine’s Day we launched our first menu at the Urban Deli under the name Italian by Night. Her restaurant had thirty eight seats, forty if we squished, and we were full. Five years later we’ve formed a new partnership, found a new location, we’re working our butts off and loving every minute. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Are you guys nuts? You’re too old to be opening a new restaurant.” My body agrees but even ten years ago, I can only speak for me, I wouldn’t have had the maturity to survive this stress. Somewhere in the last decade, my perspective shifted. What was important then has changed. Maybe once you past fifty plus years, your diminishing lifetime allows your ego and heart to discern between nonsense and what really counts.

When we were in the development stage of our new location, I met with a number of local chefs to ask advise on staffing. It was clear from my discussions that the model I was developing is not the industry norm. I had no interest in running a quasi-militant kitchen. As much as I love being a benevolent dictator, I believe to truly love your job you need to own it. You need to be empowered to make decisions, to organize your own time and to understand how you impact the overall business. My mission was to find a kitchen team that loved to cook. I shared with Liz and Gord that I wanted to staff the kitchen with experienced and novice cooks to create a mentoring atmosphere. They loved the idea.

For a solid week, I held twenty minute interviews at a local coffee shop with interested applicants. Their skill sets ran the gamete from none to red sealed chefs. I was more interested in their personalities than where they’d worked. I knew I was taking a huge risk but I believe passion and the want to learn trumps ‘it’s a job’.

chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l

One of the most satisfying comments we receive weekly is, “Your kitchen is so calm. Everyone seems so happy.” My hunch turned out to be bang on. Our experienced chefs have taken our junior prep cooks under their wings with open hearts. It’s unbelievable to work daily in such a kind and generous atmosphere.

Kate McCarthy is our pastry chef. She’s unbelievably talented, shares the IbN work ethic ‘whatever it takes’ and makes our kitchen smell droolingly delicious all day long. I photographed her preparing our Chocolate Celebration Cake with Espresso Buttercream.

chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l

chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l
chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l

chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l


  • 400 grams white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 pound unsalted butter – sorry that I flip back and forth between metric and Imperial measurements
  • 1/4 cup strong espresso


  1. Whip egg whites until stiff.
  2. Bring sugar and water to a boil. Occasionally use a pastry brush and cold water to brush down any crystals that form on the side of the pan. Boil until liquid reaches 116*C over medium heat.
  3. Pour sugar mixture slowly into egg whites. Beat until bowl is cool to the touch – ten minutes.
  4. Cut butter into 1″ pieces, and add them slowly to the sugar/egg white mixture.
  5. Beat until light and fluffy. It may look lumpy, but keep beating until it’s smooth.

THE LOVE: You can freeze any leftover buttercream.

chocolate layer cake with espresso Italian buttercream l

And so we quietly celebrated our fifth anniversary with Kate’s beautiful cake.

Thanks for reading.