F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Ristorante di Mare (Las Vegas); Lake Park Bistro, Ristorante Bartolotta, Bacchus (Milwaukee)
Experience: Spiaggia (Chicago), San Domenico (NYC)
Education: Milwaukee Area Technical College (restaurant and hotel management program)
Who taught you to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from them?
I have been blessed with many mentor chefs. My first maestro was Giovanni Marangelli. He was my first chef in my native Milwaukee and left a profound impact on my life. After months of preparing the ingredients for every dish, watching him cook and then tasting and plating the final dish, I was frustrated that he never let me actually cook. One night, he stepped off the line and said, “You’re cooking tonight, not me.” Stunned, I did just that. I realized that by knowing the ingredients in correct proportion, watching him cook and intimately knowing the final product, I knew how to cook. He had taught me this formula:
Balance of ingredients + Time + Temperature = Taste
What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself?
Italian eggs, a.k.a. scrambled eggs made with olive oil.
What is the best dish for a neophyte home cook to try?
Almost anything. Just try it!
What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
I am curious about molecular gastronomy but not interested enough to change the way I cook and view food.
What is the best-bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how would you use it?
Buy the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find.
Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year, and why?
Some unknown restaurant in a port where I dock my sailboat...TBD!
What are your talents besides cooking?
I am a good communicator.
What is the most cherished souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip?
Documents for my Italian passport.
What dish are you famous for?
More than any single dish, I’m known for sourcing and overnighting the freshest seafood from the Mediterranean, what I like to call my Italian-speaking fish, like my live langoustines that flock in my tanks until they are summoned for the pleasure of my guests.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
La Grande Cucina Regionale Italiana, by Fernanda Gossetti.
One technique everyone should know?
How to season food.
What’s the best-bang-for-the-buck food trip? Where would you go and why?
Rent a sailboat with a skipper, sail to port towns, find the best local olive oil, seafood and vegetables to make super-simple lunches. Then eat in the locals’ favorite restaurants.
If you could invent a restaurant for an imaginary project, what would it be?
A beach restaurant with plastic furniture under umbrellas, and a huge grill to cook fish.
What’s the best house cocktail?
An Aperol Fizz.
What is your current food obsession?
Live crustaceans and mollusks.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Salumi e formaggi.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.