My interest in food started early in life. I would sit in our kitchen in Rome and watch my mother prepare our family dinner, which was served almost every day of the week upon my father’s return from the office. Since we lived in Rome for the better part of 20 years, the menu consisted mainly of Italian inspired dishes with an occasional splash of my Mom’s German upbringing. Whether it was Fettuccine with homemade ragu, or Polpette alla Romana (Roman meatballs), Spezzatino di Vitella (Veal Stew) or Ossobuco, I would be there at my mother’s command to assist with whatever small responsibility she decided to give me. She was certainly no “chef” but she was the inspiration that first got me interested in the world of food.
As I grew older and entered my teens and subsequently my college years, cooking became a more consistent part of my life. First I was able to prepare my own meals from what I had learned and observed from my mother, and most importantly it gave me the opportunity to cook for friends which was always a great way to not only bond with my peers, but also an effective tool to meet cute girls and impress them with my culinary skills.
Today, as I embark on my senior citizen years, (though I do like to believe 60 is the new 40…), cooking, eating, experimenting with new places to eat and writing about it have become my passion and a substitute for the energy I used to put into my entrepreneurial work. I love living in Los Angeles where the diversity of culinary experiences is vast, where scattered throughout the city new and diverse experiences pop up all the time.
Most recently, however, I have a had a new and different kind of experience, which has opened my eyes to what cooking really means at a higher level, beyond the mundane dishes I may cook or recipes I may try to interpret hesitantly in my kitchen. And that is the experience of meeting and knowing real chefs – individuals who cook for a living and who have showed me that creating a dish goes far beyond following a recipe or cooking those old dishes I learned as a young man.
Creating dishes, constructing levels of flavors that go beyond the ordinary are the dominion of these chefs who I have come to know and have given me a level of appreciation for the art of cooking far beyond what I experienced prior to meeting them.
Chef Doug Miriello
Doug Miriello was for several years the executive sous chef at Gjusta, one of Venice, CA’s hippest and most trendy restaurants despite the fact it was a very rustic venue with a few tables outside and much of the business was take away. I got to know Doug through my brother, who introduced me to him during one of his trips to Los Angeles from Florida where he lives. Speaking to Doug and understanding his methods and inspirations when it came to creating dishes in the kitchen made me come to understand that “constructing” a dish was much more than combining ingredients. It was the ability to create flavors that came together harmoniously. In Doug’s case his dishes were hearty, rustic and full of flavor. Minestrone can be found anywhere, in any Italian restaurant whether you are in Rome or in Los Angeles, they all more or less taste the same. However, when Doug invited us one night to Gjusta for a quick dinner, his homemade minestrone “bowled” me over. This was not just vegetables cooking in a simple chicken or meat broth. Instead it was a carefully constructed dish which started with a hearty stock and melded with a mixture of ingredients that turned the soup into a sublime, rich, robust experience like I had never had before.
He followed this by serving us a Steak au Poivre – again something found ubiquitously throughout Paris in any bistro on every corner. But here again Doug was able to create flavors and textures I had never had before from what is basically a simple dish. And all done in a flash as I watched him put the dish together from the kitchen with not only expertise, but also with a touch a shamanic magic which is the prevue of all great chefs.
Chef Marco Maestoso
Marco Maestoso was the Executive Chef and Owner of Casa Maestoso in Rome for several hears. Marco got his chops in the cooking world honing his skills in a variety of restaurants in Italy, but also worked in New York in established and iconic venues such Le Cirque, The Waldorf Astoria and the The Pierre Hotel. He has since ventured into the pop up dining experience and has since come to Los Angeles. I got the pleasure of getting to know him better and see him create his magic in my home where he and his girlfriend Dalila stayed for several weeks.
I was amazed at how he could take the simplest ingredients and turn them into a delicious dish. This innate ability to understand flavor, technique and ingredients enabled him to make the simplest of dishes seem gourmet. At lunch one day we only had a few purple potatoes and some other basic ingredients, from which he created a simple and delicious puree – with an intensity of flavor and texture that was amazing given what he had at his disposal and the time we had to cook the dish. One evening, my better half asked Marco if he would kindly cook us a fish dinner. What resulted was a one of a kind dish that simply just sprouted from Marco’s imaginative culinary mind. Taking a few filet’s of Amberjack, some vegetables and his bag of tricks, Marco created a subtle, flavorful, beautiful and extremely delicious dish. A creation, as Doug Miriello had also done, that can only come from the minds of chefs and the instincts and inspirations that characterize the way they look at food. A true inspiration for me and one that allowed me to see another dimension of cooking up close and first hand, which I had never experienced again.
I Continue my Journey.
My cooking skills are good enough to make you a make a mean Pot Roast or a respectable Chicken with Peppers – even my Carbonara is as good as it is in any neighborhood in Rome. However, to truly understand flavor, to have an inspired view of cooking is the dominion of the true chef. Following a recipe, being a home cook and expressing our food enthusiasm in the kitchen is fine. But discovering the talents of real chefs as I have done in both Doug and Marco, have opened my eyes to what cooking with instinct, inspiration and knowledge can really be like. As I keep experiencing my culinary adventures, locally and around the world, I will continue look for these inspirations and appreciate with enormous gratitude the amazing chefs that create them.