Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Twenty Years Is a Big Anniversary for Shadyside Chef with Parkinson's Disease

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Twenty Years Is a Big Anniversary for Shadyside Chef with Parkinson's Disease

Article excerpt

Tucked into a residential stretch of Spahr Street in Shadyside, Cafe Zinho is a charming neighborhood restaurant celebrating its 20th anniversary this month: It would be a big deal to any restaurateur, but it's especially significant for owner Toni Pais, a dean of the city's restaurant industry. He's had Parkinson's for more than a decade.

"I almost forgot about the anniversary," Mr. Pais, 63, says before service last week, sitting at a table by the window of his dining room. He wore jeans, running shoes and a baseball cap with a semi-official-looking logo of Portugal - one of many reminders of his heritage. He's from Cascais, a seaside town outside Lisbon known for its fish market. Fish plays a significant role on the menu at Zinho in homage to his homeland.

"Twenty years," he recalled to his wife Becky Pais. "Let's do something special."

That something special was a 10-course dinner with wine pairings earlier this month, a production for the small staff of his 40-seat restaurant. They included fois gras truffle with sardine crostini as well as a scallop wrapped in smoked salmon dressed with caviar. "I tried to keep the portions as small as I could," he says. His chef de cuisine helped him, the Moroccan-born Dounia Touil, who has been with him for the past four years.

Ms. Touil had been Mr. Pais' right hand - both figuratively and literally - before he sought a special treatment for his Parkinson's disease in 2012. Before then he relied only on medication to steady his tremors but the efficacy of drugs was increasingly intermittent, with longer stretches between periods of relative normalcy. Using a knife (safely) in the kitchen was growing particularly risky. Parkinson's is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects motor skills, speech and balance. He is among as many as a million Americans living with the disease; 60,000 people are diagnosed each year, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

The Power of Ritual

The special treatment was deep brain stimulation, for which doctors planted electrodes in Mr. Pais' brain and ran connections to a pacemaker-type device called an implantable pulse generator placed near the collarbone to stimulate dopamine production and help reduce symptoms. Since then, DBS has helped control symptoms, though something else has too: The daily routine of work.

"Believe it or not, I'm here every day," he says as he looks around his restaurant. He still starts the morning with a workout at the gym, followed by trips to the market to shop for the day's ingredients. Then he's back in the kitchen at the restaurant with Ms, Touil, a daily routine that "I use as my therapy," he says. "I don't think about my illness if I am occupied."

Doctors say that has been key to his success in fighting the disease. …

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