An Interview with: Executive Chef Tim O’Donnell
His name is Tim O’Donnell but don’t let the Irish connotation fool you – he serves up some of the most flavourful Italian dishes in Niagara Falls. Originally from Windsor, O’Donnell grew up quite literally immersed in the food business. From a young age he would work on local farms doing manual labour, picking tomatoes and cucumbers and detasseling corn. Over time he moved indoors, working in the processing factory for Hunts and eventually Heinz (both precursors to his future tomato sauce making days at Pranzo Ristorante).
After attending and graduating from George Brown’s Culinary Management program in 1984, Tim O’Donnell remained in the Toronto area, gaining skills and experience in various hotel and restaurant kitchens. “I picked up a lot from the chefs I worked with …starting at Oliver’s Bistro, and then I worked at a few restaurants within Oliver’s (Oliver & Bonacini restaurant company) including Bofinger and Auberge du Pommier,” recounts O’Donnell. “After Auberge there were a few small inns I worked at north of Toronto, and then I moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” where shortly thereafter he joined the Hilton Niagara Falls team and became Executive Chef in 2000. At the time he was responsible for the hotel’s signature fine dining restaurant, the Watermark, as well as overseeing the Banquets department. Almost 18 years later his portfolio includes: The Watermark, Spyce Lounge, Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse, Frontier BBQ & Smokehouse, Mercato Cafe and notably, Pranzo Ristorante Italiano.
Located within the Hilton Niagara Falls/Fallsview Hotel on Fallsview Boulevard, Pranzo Italian restaurant welcomes locals and their families as well as the visiting tourists from abroad. In the summertime, with the patio open across from the sights and sounds of the Fallsview Casino, it’s a location that stimulates all of the senses. Live music outdoors on the patio, the aroma of their brick oven pizzas cooking inside, the country chic charm of the filament lighting strung from a post and beam ceiling – and that’s just the ambiance. As Executive Chef Tim O’Donnell describes,
“the feel of the place is a classic, rustic Italian restaurant – it’s not checkered tablecloths.”
The independent restaurant re-branded and re-opened two years ago and is able to accommodate up to 300 in their large, yet intimate venue. The menu offerings are as authentically Italian as you can get, but the one signature ingredient that makes Pranzo unique is the homemade pasta sauce. This sauce, which is used in many featured dishes, was created by the late matriarch of the DiCosimo family, affectionately referred to as ‘Mrs. D.’ “She was a very good cook. We use her tomato sauce recipe – it’s just a beautiful sauce,” describes O’Donnell. Of course, the Chicken Parmesan is always popular, but as for interesting and unique menu items, Chef suggests trying their Spicy Shrimp appetizer or Lobster Ravioli for a change. Despite being immersed in food and beverage all day, Chef O’Donnell still enjoys cooking for himself and his family when he gets home. “I do like comfort food. I enjoy making slow cooked, braised dishes; lamb leg, short ribs…. and pasta,” he ends with a smile, “of course.”
Pranzo Ristorante Italiano is located at 6361 Fallsview Boulevard inside the Hilton Niagara Falls/Fallsview Hotel & Suites. They are open daily from 12pm – 11pm, both walk ins and reservations welcome. Locals can enjoy free parking!