Like most great chefs, Fabio Trabocchi of Maestro, the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia, turns to the culinary traditions of his homeland for inspiration. But while most of his peers claim, often with misty eyes, that the cuisine of their mothers and grandmothers motivated them to pursue a career behind the stove, 30-year-old Trabocchi credits his choice of career to his fathera farmer turned long-haul truck driver.
Fabio's dad, Giuseppe, is among the last of his kind. He grew up on the type of sharecropper's farm that was once home to most of the population of Le Marche, a remote part of Italy that lies over the Apennine Mountains from Rome, on the Adriatic coast. Like many, Giuseppe was forced off the land by the social changes that followed World War II, and cooking became his link to the past. That cooking (veal chops with honey, lamb stew with lemon, pasta with lobster) inspires Fabio's cuisine, but Fabio both refines and intensifies it. As Paul Bocuse did with the home cooking of Lyon, and Alain Ducasse with that of Provence, Fabio Trabocchi has "gastronomized" the simple, hearty food of Le Marcheand was named an F&W Best New Chef 2002 for his efforts.
Trabocchi and I recently traveled to Le Marche to research a cookbook (Cuisines of Le Marche, due out in 2005). We flew into the regional capital, Ancona, and rented a car for our explorations. Divided into four provinces by four river valleys, Le Marche (literally "the marches" or "border regions") has not yet succumbed to tourism. We visited medieval piazzas as quiet during afternoon nap time as they were when the painter Piero Della Francesca lived there, and strolled through cacophonous markets inside ancient city walls, where the passing hours are measured by the clear sound of church bells.