Extra Virgin Season 5 – “James Beard Supper”

I am often asked what inspires me when I use food to entertain, when I develop recipes for my jobs, or whenever I cook for my girls at home. It is not an easy answer. I did not attend culinary school, I did not slave for a decade on a famous chef’s line, and in all honesty I have never thought that food would become for me, one day, the exact medium to express my artistry… or become a job at all for that matter.

I grew up in the country, surrounded by farmers, hunters and their wives: for the most part short hairy ladies with old school names like Rosa, Guendalina and Renata. They were rugged to the impossible, never appeared tired, and always had a new joke to tell me… very often totally politically incorrect! Their hands were small and delicate, ideal to produce the tiniest and most succulent tortellini, but also as strong as a nutcracker and heavy as hammers when butchering a boar or harvesting roots from the vegetable garden. They were and always will be, along with my mother and grandmother the best cooks I ever met in my life.Whenever and whatever I cook now, those unforgettable moments spent in my grandmother’s kitchen over three decades ago, are my sole inspiration and connection with the land I come from. I do not cook to impress my guests, I cook to preserve and celebrate the memories of those wonderful, long gone days of my youth. I do not like to innovate, I like to channel stories and life moments into the dishes I put on the table; I tell stories so they don’t get lost in time, that is my mission.

So who are my favorite chefs? Those who do not use food to glorify themselves in a menu but rather those who are on a mission to use food as a medium to friendship, family, storytelling and preservation of heritage.

James Beard did not have a restaurant per se, but he was a great cook that celebrated those ideals within the walls of his own home in NYC. He entertained, hosted magnificent parties and yes he discovered great chefs, acted as a mentor and inspired a generation of cooks, but he did it in his own very special way, one dinner at the time. His house is now home to The James Beard Foundation, that thrives to keep those sentiments alive and operates daily to allow cooks from all over the world to enter the house kitchen and throw down an evening for a limited number of guests.

When James Beard Foundation reached out to Debi and I and asked if we wanted to host a dinner on their premises I was touched and honored. I am incredibly happy that we were able to treat a bunch of our dearest friends to an evening of elegance, history and great food. Spending a few hours in Mr. Beard’s kitchen was for me an unforgettable experience and I hope to have done justice to his food and entertaining philosophy.

Here is the menu from this week’s Episode:

Seared Scallops with Fava Bean Puree

Beets, Cucumber and Bottarga Salad 

Seared Branzino “Alla Vernaccia”

Lemon Panna Cotta with Wine and Blackberry Sauce