For owner and executive chef John Dornback, operating his Short North restaurant, Basi Italia, has always been a labor of love. After completing his formal culinary training at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and honing his skills at Cleveland landmarks such as Ristorante Giovanni in Beachwood, Hecks Cuisine in Rocky River, and Parker’s in Ohio City, Dornback felt it was time to establish his culinary voice independently.

“At 40 years old, I had spent roughly half my life in other peoples’ kitchens,” Dornback said. “Ownership was the only way forward for me. It took my wife and business partner, Trish, to make me see that.”

Over his long culinary career, Dornback feels his most memorable culinary experiences have been “cooking a meal for staff after a long, busy service,” he said. “The pride and unity that comes from a simple meal is what makes the wheels go around for me.”

Simplicity is at the heart of Dornback’s core principles for creating honest food at Basi, and he’s proud of how far the restaurant has come since opening it with his wife in 2003. “Basi has been in a form of constant evolution since opening,” he said. “We have been very fortunate and we work hard to re-earn that everyday.”

An important aspect of the restaurant’s ability to keep the menu fresh is its commitment to using local ingredients. “The best and most rewarding source [for local ingredients] has been the Columbus North Market,” Dornback said. “I was a board member for six years there, I can relate to the merchants and farmers. I know what running your own business is like. I buy and sell on relationships.”

In addition to buying local, Dornback also cooks seasonally to keep the menu interesting. He’s opted to wait until spring is in full bloom to develop a spring menu, but he’s confident in the long-standing customer favorites. “After 10 years at Basi, we still prepare a number of items that were on our first menu,” he said. “Zucchini Pronto, Mustard Crusted Trout, Eggplant Parmesan, and Rigatoni Pasta , [which is] Trish’s mom’s recipe, among others. They are just strong dishes that have proven the test of time. I am proud of that.”

Dornback feels the best aspect of Basi is people. “From our staff, past and present, to our customers, our neighbors, and our vendors, Basi has been built on and continues to grow from relationships with people,” he said. “We are constantly listening to our customers, our neighbors, and employees. We are inspired by our community and try hard to reflect that.”

At the Short North Gala, Dornback is most looking forward to “reconnecting with friends, neighbors, and restaurant peers in the community,” he said. “I am excited about the collaboration and the celebration of community.”

For more information about the Short North Gala, click here. Buy tickets here or to reserve a table, call (614) 299.8050.

– Michelle Gibson