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This summer, the Globe names, and celebrates, the most influential people in Canadian food – chefs and CEOs, farmers and winemakers, plus researchers, restaurateurs and, of course, eaters

In the first of a five-part series, meet The Faithful, the ones who are winning the long game:
the first chef to make Indian food buzzy, the $11-billion cheese magnate, Canada's first family of craft beer and more

The complete series:

Chris Ramsaroop: “Everybody thinks of migrant workers as the property of the employer.”

Chris Ramsaroop: “Everybody thinks of migrant workers as the property of the employer.”

COREY MINTZ for The Globe and Mail

By Corey Mintz
Special to the Globe and Mail

It's 5 p.m. on an early summer day, and the truck I'm in is the only thing moving on a country road just southeast of Toronto. The truck passes a field of Christmas trees, two feet high in July, then a pair of teens sitting in the tall grass next to a horse, who crane their necks to watch this truck full of outsiders as it drives by.

A mailbox mounted on a post marks the entrance to a small house that is shared by migrant farm workers. Worker #1, a lean and muscular Jamaican man in his early 30s, waits by the road, cellphone in one hand, the other wrapped in a brace.

Chris Ramsaroop, a big guy, with a face framed by chunky glasses, a goatee and curly hair, steps out of the truck, shoes crunching on the gravel road. The 42-year-old founder of Justice for Migrant Workers spends his weeks working 9 to 5 as a legal clerk and his weekends in farm country, trying to make a difference for Canada's estimated 34,000 migrant farm workers.

Outside of the truck's air conditioning, it smells like manure. It's Canada Day. As we drove out of Toronto, it seemed like the whole city was out on the porch, the sidewalk or whatever plot of grass was available, grilling meat, sipping beer and otherwise luxuriating on Canada's birthday, a federal statutory holiday.

Here in farm country, people don't have the day off. Most workers here are on eight-month contracts, brought here from mainly Mexico and the Caribbean through the federal Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. During that time, they work six days a week, 10 hours a day. They don't get stat holidays. They don't get overtime pay. When the growing and picking season is over, they go back to their own countries for four months or so. The time they work in Canada does not count toward earning legal, permanent residency.

And so Ramsaroop is working too. He reaches back into the truck to grab a folder filled with newspaper articles about farm labourers' rights. And then he listens, making notes, as Worker #1 describes how his hand was injured: He was moving boxes of Christmas trees, transplanting them from the nursery to the field. It's a job for five bodies, but there were only three around. A supervisor told them to do it anyway. Worker #1's hand got caught between the box and a machine.

He was taken to a doctor by his boss: The doctor shared Worker #1's medical records with his employer, and said an additional X-ray would be needed after three weeks. Worker #1 was never taken back to the doctor. I naively ask how any doctor would breach patient confidentiality by sharing a patient's medical records with their employer. Ramsaroop says it's less intentional malice than the way of life out here. "Everybody thinks of migrant workers as the property of the employer."

Ramsaroop has been at this since 2001, when a wildcat strike in Leamington, Ont., opened his eyes to the harsh reality of migrant workers. There have been some wins in that time – Human Rights Tribunal rulings, one against a Kingsville tomato farm where workers were referred to as "monkeys," and against a Wheatly fish processing plant where employees sexually harassed workers – but after each incident, the public's memory recedes.

Worker #1 is from Jamaica. He left his wife and child there to come here to work 60 hours a week in a field. But like most migrant agricultural labourers, Worker #1 is expendable. He has been told that he and his hand are "becoming such a problem," and has been accused of exaggerating the injury. Employers can't force injured workers to leave. But they can make them miserable enough to voluntarily go home. Worker #1 was put on weeding, which requires crouching and two good hands.

"Two can play at that game," says Worker #1, who says he makes his bosses miserable in return "by showing up every day, ready to work." He's playing it nice. But he's simmering. Back home, he was a welder. His wife is a chemical engineer. Here, he is someone's property.

Ramsaroop gives him the reading material and says he hopes to get a friendly doctor out here to have a look at the hand. He instructs Worker #1 to avoid voicing any desire to return home, which his employer might use as an excuse to break the work contract.

Before we climb back into the truck, he tells Worker #1 about a labour march, starting on Sept. 5 in Windsor and ending in Ottawa in early October. Ramsaroop has hopes that groups from each area will join for at least one leg of the journey.

We head to a nearby Tim Hortons, waiting to hear from Worker #2, who needs to be sure that the bosses have left for the day before he can talk to us. It's a long wait.

The labour activist avoids getting personal about his work. But when pressed, he admits that his interest runs deep. "My family, on my mother's side, about four generations back, up to my grandmother, were indentured workers in Trinidad," Ramsaroop says. "After slavery ended, they brought over workers from India to work on the plantations. So my family, that's how they ended up in Trinidad. They were bonded to a contract, very similar to today.

"They were given poverty wages. There were many injuries and sicknesses. The plantation owners would totally control the lives of the indentured workers. And this is something we see today."

We've moved on to Wendy's when Worker #2 sends a text message that he is ready to talk. We drive down another lonely country road.

Ramsaroop avoids going on farm property if he can help it. But as the sun dips over the horizon, sinking the farm into darkness, we get the all clear from Worker #2 to drive up to the barracks, a large, open-air building where 150 men sleep in just one room. Worker #2 hops in the truck and starts giving Ramsaroop updates: There is a rumour that an inspector ordered the farm owner to rebuild one of the living quarters because of rotting wood.

Worker #2, too, is from the Caribbean. He works part-time in the fields and part-time in the factory, maintaining the machines that sort and clean the fruit. As an agricultural worker, he is not supposed to be in the factory at all.

"When the company guys come to repair something, they have to pay," Worker #2 says. "When we do it, them get it for less than half the price. I understand, you want your equipment fixed fast. You want your machinery to be working good. But they rush us. Then they say we're taking too long. They don't speak to the company guys like that. They talk to us like we're prisoners."

Worker #2 has been coming to Canada as a Temporary Foreign Worker for 13 years. He works 60 hours a week, but cannot become a Canadian. Temporary Foreign Workers are legally tied to their employers: They can change jobs only with an agreement through both employers. So they effectively cannot quit their jobs and are considered AWOL if they attempt to find new work without permission.

Ramsaroop and Justice for Migrant Workers campaign on two fronts. They want the federal government to grant migrant farm workers permanent immigration status on arrival. They also want the provincial government to enforce labour rights, including the health care that migrants are promised but often denied. They are trying to organize these temporary, vulnerable workers into a collective, for strength, and to reform provincial and federal laws so that farm work can be decent and dignified.

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It's midnight. Worker #2 thanks us for listening and heads to bed. We drive off into the blackness.

Two towns over, we meet Worker #3 on a moonlit playground. He has never met Ramsaroop before. But even though he knows he'll probably get fired, he's compelled to speak up about the horrible conditions where he works.

Worker #3 has a phone full of images. There are videos of the fields where he is sent to pick cantaloupe, watermelon and strawberries without a mask, 30 minutes after they've been sprayed with pesticide.

He shows us the building where he sleeps with 34 other men. Each tiny bed is surrounded by a pile of laundry, stacked like sandbag walls for a moderate amount of privacy. The boots the men wear in the pesticide-laced field are stored in the same room.

Worker #3, a young, confident Caribbean man, shows us gruesome close-ups of bedbugs and says his supervisor laughed when told about the infestation. He has been here two months and still hasn't received his OHIP card.

And, he says, he's willing to endure all of that. What he can't abide is the money he sees missing from his pay, hours shaved off that he has worked. And he fears he's in trouble with the bosses because they probably know he's made videos in the field.

After listening, Ramsaroop asks the most relevant question. "How many are ready to stand up?"

Worker #3 says he'll poke around, as discreetly as possible. He knows he's in for a world of trouble if his employers hear of him organizing any kind of worker resistance. But he's fed up and believes that some of the others are too.

Ramsaroop gives him the rundown on what kind of help he can provide: documenting infractions, potential legal assistance and advising actions he can take without being terminated. He asks Worker #3 to keep track of hours for as many workers as possible and to snap a photo of the pesticide labels. And before we leave he tells him about the march in September.

Ramsaroop says it's an endless frustration, organizing farm labourers. The temporary, contract nature of the work cycles resisters out of the system – and there is always a fresh crop of bodies on the way. Plus, farm workers can't unionize in Canada. That's why his ultimate goal is to have Ottawa change the 50-year-old TFW program to offer citizenship and rights to the people who come here to pick our food, rather than continuing to rent their bodies for pennies on the dollar, until they're broken.

It's Friday night. On Saturday, Ramsaroop will be out here again, meeting with workers, hearing their stories, helping them access resources. On Sunday, he's hosting a birthday party for the daughter of a former field worker.

Most weekends and evenings, he's driving out to the fields, to meet people on the side of the road, in small-town Tim Hortons, bars or parking lots. He has no family outside his mother, no life outside of this. I ask what he does on his off time.

"I sleep," he says.

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By Beppi Crosariol
The Globe and Mail

Most new winery owners leap into the business because of passion for the product and the bucolic lifestyle. Many soon wake up with a hangover, realizing it's no breeze to build profitable brand awareness around yet another pricey pinot noir or chardonnay in a crowded marketplace. For Christine Coletta, co-owner of five-year-old Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland, B.C., marketing came naturally.

She'd been ably helping others do it most of her life. As a bar manager and volunteer event organizer in the 1980s, Coletta helped stage tastings and conferences for the B.C. industry. She then moved on to a distinguished stint as executive director in the 1990s of the fledgling British Columbia Wine Institute, the provincial trade group, which she ran for nine years. After that, she flourished in her own business, Coletta Consultants, developing branding and sales campaigns for such pioneering producers as Sumac Ridge, Tinhorn Creek, Gray Monk and Hester Creek.

Her constant mission: to sell the public on the once-radical notion that British Columbia wine could compete on par with the rest of the world.

"There's no person I respect more in the business than Chris Coletta," said John Clerides, president of Vancouver's Marquis Wine Cellars, British Columbia's first private wine store. "She's a great general, a great leader. … It's her temperament. You could set a nuclear bomb under her desk and she'd just go about her business."

One of Coletta's first big coups was to lure famed British wine author Hugh Johnson to the Okanagan Valley in 1996, a visit that secured British Columbia's inclusion in Johnson's authoritative World Atlas of Wine, literally putting the province on the grape map. "He loves trees," Coletta said. "So, I took him on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail to see trees. By the time he got to wine country he was in a good mood."

Now Coletta is bottling remarkable wines herself. With husband Steve Lornie, a veteran construction manager, she founded Okanagan Crush Pad with an innovative dual purpose. It was designed as the home of the couple's two main brands, Haywire and Narrative, and also as an industry incubator where others could time-share the facilities and rely on OCP's resident stable of winemaking talent to craft small-scale cuvées that would otherwise never see the light of day.

"I was working for wineries and giving them advice that they would only take half of," Coletta recalled. "So I said, 'Why don't I just do it and follow my own advice to the letter.' It was 500 times more work but five million times more rewarding." The couple's so-called custom-crush venture met with such rapid success that it was celebrated on the cover of BC Business Magazine as one of the province's top innovative companies for 2013.

Coletta and Lornie eventually also imported a series of giant egg-shaped concrete vats from California and Italy, another point of differentiation. Unlike oak barrels, which impart wood-derived characters of vanilla and toastiness, concrete – an old-school but newly fashionable winemaking material – is relatively neutral, permitting grape flavours to shine through with fruity clarity. "We're trying to make wines as naturally as we can so that we can express the Okanagan," Coletta said. "I think as an industry we've overplayed our oak card." And because concrete is slightly porous, it softens texture with a creamy mouthfeel in a way that cold stainless steel – the other main vessels used around the world – can't.

The tireless champion of B.C. wine has come a long way since emerging from her shell as a "painfully shy" 15-year-old waitress at Denny's. That job, which she says taught her valuable lessons about teamwork, eventually led to a position as Vancouver's first female bar manager, at Kettle of Fish restaurant in 1978, and, later, a job at Bridges, the city's first wine bar. But she'll never forget Denny's.

"I wouldn't necessarily say I got my love of food and wine there, but I got a love for the Patty Melt, which we had most nights for dinner."

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By Ellen Brait
The Globe and Mail

When Normand Laprise started working in restaurants 38 years ago, he discovered that all the chefs in Quebec were from France. Or, as he puts it, "being a good chef was not for a Quebecer or for a Canadian, it was only for the French." But all of that is a distant memory, thanks to the Quebec-born Laprise, who evolved into one of Canada's most important chefs, one who has influenced the entire country's palate through the generations of younger cooks that have moved through his kitchens.

Laprise's list of awards and honours is exhaustive. He is a member of the Order of Canada, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, a Knight of the National Order of Quebec and a Relais & Château Grand Chef. His restaurants Toqué and Brasserie T are critically acclaimed – and he's been behind the stoves at Toqué since 1993.

His love of food began when he was young, growing up on a farm in Kamouraska, a small town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. There, he developed a taste for extremely fresh produce, something he still places great emphasis on today. Laprise says that one of his biggest accomplishments has been cultivating a large network of independent and local farmers, fishermen, and foragers: when he started working in restaurants, locally sourcing produce was rare in Canada, if it existed at all. But at Toqué, ingredients must come from within Canada, except for in rare circumstances.

"I don't accept produce arriving from outside of the country. It's not possible for me. That's a rule in the kitchen," Laprise says with a laugh. "All of my chefs say 'If people bring in something like that, it's the last day you work.'"

Angus An worked in the kitchen at Toqué for three years and is now executive chef and owner of the Thai restaurant Maenam in Vancouver. He believes Laprise has reinvented Quebec cuisine: traditional French food in Quebec can be "overly rich and heavy," he says, but Laprise cooks dishes that are lighter and "more ingredient focused, letting the ingredients speak for themselves."

Laprise believes that Canada is just starting to establish its food culture and identity. "We're in the process of figuring out 'What is Canadian food?' It's not a 2,000-year-old country, so for me it's a young country," said Laprise, who adds that each province's cuisine has a distinct personality. "We are on the way to building something very strong. Every chef in every province understands the work he still has to do."

On top of his accomplishments as a chef, Laprise has had a hand in teaching many young chefs throughout Quebec. Working with him is a badge of honour in the food world, says An, who adds that it "opens a lot of doors." Au Pied de Cochon's Martin Picard, Decca 77's Jean-Sébastien Giguère, and Montréal Plaza's Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson all spent time working with and learning from Laprise.

An described Laprise's teaching style as not "aggressive or forceful" like many chefs. "Toqué has always been a very different style from other kitchens I've been to. Even after I left, it's still hard to replace some of the stuff that comes from him," An said. "He quietly tells you what he wants and he lets you have space to figure out things on your own so you retain it better. He treats his staff like his family."

When his trainees leave his kitchen to open their own places, Laprise says they use the fundamentals he taught them to insert their personalities into their new restaurants. The result, he says, is to "make the food better and better."

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By Ben Johnson
Special to The Globe and Mail

When Ralph Morana opened Bar Volo on Yonge Street in 1985, it's unlikely he imagined that the small Italian restaurant would come to play a significant role in Canada's craft beer scene. In those days, Morana was less interested in curating his beer selection, and more interested in perfecting his carbonara.

But from those humble beginnings, Ralph Morana and his sons Julian and Tomas grew the small space, which seats just a few dozen people (with room for a few more standing at the bar), into the epicentre of the beer scene in Toronto – if not Ontario.

The space features 26 beers on tap, including six cask offerings, and many from a vast selection of bottled imports that can't be found anywhere else in the province. In 30 years, Volo has become a place of pilgrimage for Canada's beer aficionados. For the last few years, it's been chosen by the storied Brasserie Cantillon to host Zwanze Day, a world-wide celebratory release of a limited one-off lambic beer. Founded in Brussels in 1900, the brasserie offers the honour to just 56 places in 17 countries around the world.

In 2005, the family launched Cask Days, an annual event showcasing cask-conditioned beer, which has evolved into one of North America's premiere celebrations of cask-conditioned ale, welcoming participating breweries from around the world. And through their import company, Keep6 Imports, the Moranas also bring hard-to-find beer into the LCBO from small breweries across Canada and abroad.

Sadly, though, their current headquarters on Yonge is slated to close in September, 2016, to make way for – surprise! – condos. But the Moranas are sure to retain a lasting influence on the beer scene. Tomas and Julian are already working to open an "international beer destination" in Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood that will feature a beer menu that includes all the best lambic beers and sour beers in the world.

No word yet on whether or not the menu will include Ralph's carbonara.

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By Alexandra Gill
Special to The Globe and Mail

In 2009, after nearly 30 years of growing beefsteak tomatoes and bell peppers, Linda Delli Santi was forced to retire her five-acre greenhouse in south Langley, B.C. The province had just introduced a new carbon emission tax and it was eating up all her profits, to the tune of $50,000 a year.

Down but not defeated, Delli Santi chose to fight back of behalf of other greenhouse vegetable farmers. "Greenhouse growers need the CO2 created by burning natural gas to fertilize our crops," Delli Santi explains. The next year, she become director of the B.C. Greenhouse Growers' Association and, after intensive lobbying, ultimately won a permanent tax-relief grant for her members. This meant saving the industry from a serious slowdown, as the carbon tax had prompted many growers to threaten to move their operations to the United States.

The B.C. greenhouse vegetable industry is a vibrant agricultural success story, with sales of more than $500-million in 2011. The province's ideal climate (less humidity and heat than Ontario) makes it ripe for steady future growth. Healthy, fresh, local, bursting with flavour, almost unbelievably beautiful and available for 10 months of the year, the succulent tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce grown in glass greenhouses represent 11 per cent of the province's total agricultural production value, yet take up only 0.01 per cent of total farmland.

But although it is innovative and sustainable on many fronts, greenhouse growing is fossil-fuel intensive. Delli Santi argues that greenhouse plants absorb the carbon emissions the industry produces. Similar exemptions have been made in Scandinavia to allow its own industry to remain competitive.

Now, the federal Liberal government is determined to set a national price on carbon emissions, and Delli Santi is gearing up to defend her often-misunderstood industry again. An astute lobbyist who also advocates for B.C. greenhouse vegetable growers on labour issues, electricity rates and compliance with regulations, Delli Santi is also chair of the Canadian Horticultural Council Greenhouse Committee, which represents 680 greenhouse farms nationwide.

"What is the value of getting a rebate or recognition of the need for carbon emissions in B.C., if it isn't recognized federally?" she says. Watch out Ottawa, here she comes.

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By Barrie McKenna
The Globe and Mail, Ottawa

Wally Smith and Lino Saputo each consider themselves the Big Cheese, but their points of view on dairy diverge there.

Mr. Smith, 57, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, runs a small 75-cow farm near tiny Chemainus, B.C., on the scenic eastern shore of Vancouver Island. As head of the national dairy-farmer lobby organization, he's committed to keeping dairy prices high through a quota system and keeping the industry as insulated as possible from the rest of the world via a tariff wall.

Lino Saputo, Jr.
Wally Smith

Mr. Saputo, 49, is the wealthy chief executive of Montreal-based Saputo Inc., the world's eighth-largest dairy company with operations on three continents and nearly $11-billion in annual sales. Contrary to Mr. Smith, Mr. Saputo wants to open the domestic market to competition.

Saputo, the family-controlled maker of cheese and other dairy products has put the bulk of its energies – and cash – into growing its foreign operations in the United States, Australia and Argentina. Sixty per cent of its sales and three-quarters of its assets are now outside its home country, where it takes advantage of lower and unregulated milk prices. "The global dairy industry holds many opportunities for our company, and we are well positioned to grasp them," Mr. Saputo explained in the company's 2016 annual report.

Mr. Saputo started working part time at the family business when he was 13. He joined for good when he was 22, after earning a political science degree at Concordia University. He was groomed through the organization, eventually heading up the company's U.S. operations. He took over as CEO from his father, also named Lino, in 2004.

Canada's tightly regulated and protected dairy-supply management system discourages entrepreneurship, Mr. Saputo told The Globe and Mail last year. Most exports are prohibited and the Canadian market is closed, so dairy processors have little incentive to invest and grow their Canadian plants. But Mr. Saputo acknowledged that the system's stable dairy prices have given the company "an incredible platform to be able to consider getting into more volatile markets. It's served us well, I have to say."

Mr. Smith got into dairy farming in 1985, when he was in his mid-twenties. His parent weren't farmers, and he doubts either of his two twentysomething children will take over the family farm when he retires.

He "sort of fell into" the job of chief lobbyist for the country's roughly 12,000 dairy farmers, he said in an interview. His foray into local, provincial and eventually national farm politics was originally a way to learn more about the industry and improve his own farm. "It may not be a big farm, but it fits right in with the Canadian average," he said.

Mr. Smith has been on the DFC board for a dozen years, the last six as chairman. He's been fighting to save supply management, win compensation for farmers as a results of recently negotiated free-trade deals and stop a flood of U.S. milk protein imports. Proof of his clout: all three major federal parties remain committed to preserving the supply management system, which tightly regulates milk production, wholesale prices and imports.

"We've preserved supply management for the next generation," Mr. Smith says of these efforts, highlighted by large farmer protests on Parliament Hill and intense lobbying of MPs. "We don't need to initiate much activity at the national level to have people motivated to do everything they need to do to defend and preserve their livelihoods and the family farm."

Two very different world views from two men on opposite ends of Canada's dairy industry.

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(This interview was condensed and edited.)

What's your desert island drink (other than water)?

Lemon-lime Gatorade, I love it.

If you could eat dinner tonight at one restaurant (other than yours), where would it be?

Tickets, Albert Adria's restaurant in Barcelona

Fill in the blanks: I'd rather have a huge piano fall on my head than eat mayo. Mayo sucks.

What's one thing you'd fix about food or restaurants in Canada today?

Consistency of service. We need to be better – extraordinary service should be the norm in Canada.

Related: a) tipping b) no tipping? Why?

We are in the service industry, great service should be expected, since that is our job. With that said, I'm fine with an open tipping policy, I don't agree with auto-gratuity. As there is no law around tipping, no one should be able to force a tip out of someone. So I guess I'm on the fence here.

Who is the next big name in Canadian food?

Carl Heinrich, the chef at Richmond Station in Toronto.

The most overrated current trend is:

The amount of "best of" lists. It seems everything and everyone is winning an award every other day.

The only cookbook I need is:

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura. Yes, he is a great chef, but he is also a master of work/life balance, which is very evident in his book.

Vegetarians are a) living saints b) a pain in the bum

Doesn't matter to me, tell me what you want to eat and I will make it happen.

Best Wednesday night dinner at home meal:

Chicken fingers, potato wedges, Gatorade and fuzzy peaches for dessert.

Give yourself a one-line review and a rating out of four stars:

3 stars – I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in this industry so far in my career. I've had amazing mentors in my dad and big brother, and I'm still always wanting to improve in providing great curated products and great service.

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(This interview was condensed and edited.)

What's your desert island drink (other than water)?

A fresh coconut that I picked after climbing the tree. … I have always dreamed of doing that.

If you could eat dinner tonight at one restaurant (other than yours), where would it be?

I would hop from one Vancouver restaurant to another and call it a "restaurant crawl." We have such great restaurants in the city, we should be proud of our backyard.

What's one thing you'd fix about food or restaurants in Canada today?

Make it mandatory that a customer has eaten at a restaurant at least three times and has spoken to management about their experience before going on social media to complain.

Related: a) tipping b) no tipping? Why?

Depends where you are on the planet.

Who is the next big name in Canadian food?

Every chef that talks about sustainability and combining passion with the environment.

The most overrated current trend is:

The 100-mile diet.

Vegetarians are a) living saints b) a pain in the bum

They can be pain-in-the-butt saints.

Best Tuesday night dinner at home:

A salad and a pizza.

Give yourself a one-line review and a rating out of four stars:

One star review. Passion, love and attention to detail does make the food spicy.

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