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Marcella-cartoon

I just saw this cartoon about the great Marcella Hazan, who you probably know died in September.
Marcella-cartoon
The cartoon is from The New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress and you can also read his full tribute to Marcella here.

David writes about how she changed his life and really, I think she did that for everyone she came in contact with. She certainly changed mine.

I met Marcella later in my life – I believe it was in 2001 – and right away I wished I had met her years earlier. To be honest, when I met Marcella I think there was a stronger, more emotional feeling for me than when I met Julia Child. I don’t know if it was because of my age – I did meet Julia when I was younger – or because of Marcella’s passion for Italian cooking, but her personality was incredible. Her love for cooking was infectious and she was always honest. But Marcella was not only a great teacher and chef, she also had a wonderful private relationship with her husband, Victor.

Before that, I used to only know Marcella on paper – from her books – as she was one of the pioneers in teaching Americans how to eat Italian food in the right way. Even today, her books are really the basis of Italian cooking.

In fact, I read a quote from Marcella’s husband Victor, a wonderful man who she had a great relationship with, in her New York Times obituary. He said something that really struck me as it fits with my own belief system about cooking. Victor said that, “Marcella was always very distressed when she would read complicated chefs’ recipes. She would just say, ‘Why not make it simple?’ So the sentiment holds. We will make it simple.”

If you know me and my cooking, you know that I too believe that simplicity is the most important element in cooking good food. Simple, fresh, honest, and classic.

As I sit here thinking of Marcella, I see her standing in front of me with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in another. And while I know that she is no longer here, I truly believe that where there is Italian cooking, there will always be Marcella.

Here is a great video of Marcella cooking with Mark Bittman a few weeks before she died: http://nyti.ms/18ZgnxO.

romeo and juliet

romeo and julietI see that there is a new production of Romeo & Juliet on Broadway with Orlando Bloom and a new movie version with two kids I never heard of. You probably know the movie follows two other versions — one with Claire Danes and Leo, and the one I remember from when I was a kid, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

I’m not such a movie geek, but all the pretty pictures of 14th century Verona made me hungry for a visit to some of my favorite haunts there.

12 Apostoli: I have great memories of 12 Apostoli from when I was in the army in Verona. I would go in and eat Chef Giorgio Gioco’s wonderful food. It has been and always will be a staple of contemporary Italian cuisine.

Ristorante Il Desco: One of the best, most classic restaurants in Verona.

Osteria al Duca: It is believed that this restaurant is in the palazzo where Romeo actually lived. Take a visit and see for yourself!

Anyone Can Be a Regular

September 22, 2013

This morning I read Frank Bruni’s article , “Familiarity Breeds Content” and I found myself thinking about my customers.

I started my life surrounded by regulars. When I was a child at Vipore the regulars were like part of the family. I saw generations of families visit us over the years. For baptisms, birthdays, and anniversaries. We had a lot of tables that we called by the names of the customers who frequently sat at them. And maybe sometimes we would even give the regulars the privilege of getting the first mushrooms that my father found near the restaurant or the first figs of the season.

But ALWAYS my father used to say to me: the regulars, they are important, but remember that every guest who walks through the door to come to eat here means that he chose us and our food out of all of the others. And every customer who comes inside has the potential to be a new regular.

I was 10 when he first told me this lesson and I don’t think I really knew the meaning. But I knew what he was saying was something important, so for a few weeks I was thinking about his words every day. Eventually I asked him to explain it to me and since that day his words are still intact in my head. Even 22 years later in 1992 when I started to work at Coco Pazzo in New York, where we had more regulars than we could hold at the tables, I still remembered his words about the customers.

And when I opened Salumeria Rosi in 2008 on the Upper West Side, a place with so many wonderful neighbors, I lived by those words and made it part of our culture. Now, 43 years later and having just celebrated the one year anniversary of Il Ristorante Rosi’s opening on Madison Avenue, I find myself feeling like I did at Vipore when I was a child. We have our regulars from the neighborhood who are just arriving back after the summer. They are coming in to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and engagements. But we are also applying my father’s law. We respect and welcome every person who walks in the door because he or she always has the potential to become our best regular customer.

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As not only an Italian, but a Tuscan Italian, I am very proud of Italian food, ingredients, tastes, agriculture – really, anything that relates to eating and eating habits. Italians have a deep cultural attachment to nourishing, delicious food, and not very much interest in junk food. Or at least that is what I always thought.

I just came back from 10 days in Tuscany where I spent time with my mamma, Rosa, aunt Anna, my cousins Paolo, Cristiana, Ilaria and Nicola, and lots of extended family. Then, we went to a trattoria outside of Lucca, where I am from, and I saw this:

Pizza with French Fries

Can you believe it!

We were out at a local pizzeria called Mangiafoco (fire eater), a place I love to go, and my 9 year old nephew, Nicola ordered a pizza that came with FRENCH FRIES and HOT DOG SLICES on top. I almost fell off my chair. What Italian chef would ever create such a thing and put it on the menu? And who would order it?

Nicola. That’s who. And all the other 9-year-old children across Italy. All it needed was a spoon of Nutella in the middle and the destruction of authentic Italian cuisine would be complete. If you can believe it, Nicola didn’t leave anything leftover on his plate. He ate ALL of it with the help of my 11-year-old daughter. Every hot dog and every french fry. This is genius of the Italian pizzaiolo, I thought. Keep the kids happy.

But the story didn’t end there. A few days later I was driving from Lucca to Viareggio, the seaside town and home of Romano, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. We pulled into an Autogrill, the restaurant along the highway where you can stop to put gasoline in your car and get a snack, sandwich, coffee, pastries and more. I walked up to the counter and noticed these three sandwiches…if you can really call these sandwiches.

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Wurster in Camicia (hot dog in a shirt).

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Pizza sandwich with mozzarella and mortadella.

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Crostone (big crust).

One was called “Wurster in Camicia” (hot dog in a shirt); the other Crostone (big crust) and the pizza sandwich had no name. Immediately my wife started laughing. I didn’t know what to think. How could Italians do this? It’s for tourists, right? But how would that explain the pizza with french fries at Mangiafoco, the most out of the way and non-touristy trattoria you could imagine.

Maybe I am missing the point? The food of my native land is of course still spectacular (my meal at Romano or Lorenzo is proof of that) and superior. But I guess I have to remind myself that it takes a lot of tastes to make up a menu.

Belated New Year’s

January 29, 2013

It was a great holiday season. I cannot believe how fast a month went by! I loved to see everyone enjoying good food, good wine, and good company. It was also nice to slow down a little bit to appreciate family and friends. I am going to be very busy in the upcoming months and the Holidays really help you to savor the time that you have with loved ones. The New Year also brings with it the opportunity to reinvent and pursuer projects or ideas that have been lying dormant (yes I know it’s well past new year’s but it’s never the wrong time to try something new). I have a few things in mind that I really want to explore for 2013. I want to learn more about gluten free, mushroom farming, and healthier foods. I am very interested in how to use food as a way to cure or help ailments instead of relying on medicine alone. I am the Chief of the Department of Nourishment arts at the Center for Discovery and the use of food as a way to heal and live well is a key philosophy there. I am also learning to play golf, which has proven to be a challenge but it is fun to learn something new. I have been working on some new menu ideas for Il Ristorante on Madison Avenue that I am very excited about. My work at The Center for Discovery inspired me to think more about the health benefits of the food at my restaurants in addition to the flavor. I want to use their philosophy to help make my food better for the guests. The Lunch and Dinner menu have some new items as well as some old favorites. We will be introducing brunch soon and we have very special Valentine’s Day menus at both locations for people who want to celebrate with great food! Today I tasted the Valentine’s Day menu at Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam, and I finalized the menu for Il Ristorante on Madison! I hope that I will see you soon to share with you the exciting new changes and special menus at Il Ristorante.

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