After an amazing evening at Culinary Mischief at Marriott London County Hall, we caught up with the Il Tocco Chef Gabe Bertaccini and pinned him down for a few questions about Italian cuisine, Phoenix supper clubs and his love of travelling…
Your site quotes you… “We are not in the business of cooking; we are in the business of creating memories” What is your earliest memory of enjoying food?
My earliest memory of food has to be waking up early in the morning on Christmas Day with the smell of “bolognese ragu’ ” cooking on the stove. I remember opening my eyes to the fragrant scent of sicilian onions, carrots and celery slowly browning in the pan. My mother’s lasagna was and still is something so difficult for me to replicate, and probably because of the memories associated with it which i know, I will never be able to recreate. The reality is that we all have our food memories, some good and some bad. The taste, smell, and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back memories not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting. Food is an effective trigger of deeper memories of feelings and emotions, internal states of the mind and body.
You started culinary school at just 13 years old – do you think it’s important to get younger generations involved in food from an early age?
Absolutely yes, and that is regardless of wether or not they will end up making a career out of it. The reality is that children’s food preferences are strongly associated with their consumption patterns and perhaps the most important determinant of a child’s liking for a particular food is the extent to which it is familiar. Put simply, children like what they know and they eat what they like. From the very earliest age, children’s experiences with food influence both preferences and intake, and research suggests that the earlier and broader that experience, the healthier the child’s diet.
If you hadn’t have been accepted to ASU do you think you’d still have made the move over to the states? Of all the places you’ve travelled there must have been other great countries that piqued your interest?
Ralph Waldo Emerson used to say that life is a journey and not a destination and i live my life in the same exact spirit. After finishing culinary school in Florence and lived in Paris and Munich working in kitchens, i would have never expected to fall in the love with the Arizona desert, landscapes and its food heritage. The representation of different cultures and international feel in terms of cuisine found in the United States is something so unique to this country that is difficult to find anywhere else. Each state has its own influences and when I travel throughout the USA I am always amazed by the variety of cooking styles and cuisines. But the importance of traveling for me is quite essential in the personal success of a chef. It is when you are exposed to different way of life, foods, spices, schedules, cultures, relationship that my mind starts generating ideas, being inspired. I can then go back home and re-create those experiences in a dinner plate for my guests to taste.
You’ve taken Culinary Mischief to Phoenix, LA, NYC, Florence and London – what’s been your favourite location to throw an Italian feast?
If I had a favourite that meant I would be done exploring more, so the answer is that I do not have a favourite. I have a connection with all the places we have visited and with all the guests who join our evenings. Each event is a one-in-a-lifetime experience that will not be replicated and that goes for the location as well. It is quite amusing to see how different cultures approach the idea of sitting at a dinner table for 5 hours, savouring through six courses and sipping on paired wines.
We, of course(!), would say that London has a busy underground dining scene that’s growing fast with secret pop ups and supper clubs; what is the scene like in Phoenix? Was it hard to start Culinary Mischief or was there already an audience for it there?
When CULINARY MISCHiEF was born here in Phoenix and Los Angeles we were the first underground dining event ever and It was a pleasure to be able to set the standard pretty high for everyone that came after us. The response was unbelievable and after 5 years still is named one of the HOTTEST TICKETS to get int terms of food events. The truth is that if you offer something original and something that you are truly passionate about, people will always be there. You have got to be genuine, true to your heritage and personal stories, to your passion for life and, in this case, to the passion of cooking and feeding people. They will taste it in the food, in the experience you create, in the things you do for them in order to create an evening they will remember for the rest of their lives.
We know you’re keen on artesian suppliers – how have you found sourcing ingredients in London – any cool foodies you have met along the way?
Borough Market is absolutely my favourite place to discover new stories, foods and artisans creating some of their most loved products.
We totally agree with you there!
It is one of London’s most renowned food market; truly a source of exceptional British and international produce. In the last years it has become a vast repository of culinary knowledge and understanding. It’s a place to explore, to ask questions, to discover new flavours and to savour a unique atmosphere. London has the advantage to be in the middle between the new and old world, thus its ability in providing an international outlook for the food industry is one of its most beautiful characteristics to me. There is not trip that I make to London where I do not meet a new young artisan showing is passion and love for what they do. It is an amazing energy and the stories are truly inspirational.
After Italian, what is your favourite cuisine?
A different kind of Italian cuisine. 🙂
Ha! Well, so much beautiful food does come out of Italy and all its different regions! and of course you’re a Tuscan chef cooking Tuscan food – so what other regions do you appreciate and what are your favourite ingredients to work with?
One of my favourite Italian regions is without any doubt Emilia-Romangna. The regional cuisine is a blend of Byzantine traditions and Lombard customs. In Romagna, there is a long tradition of growing olives, and cooking meat and fish on terracotta tiles. In Emilia, however, the local diet relys heavily on salumi and cheeses. These long-lasting products originally come from the nomadic populations in the area that sustained themselves with animals, and few, wild fruits and vegetables.
The regional salumi, or cured meats, are famous throughout the world. Some of the more popular products include Mortadella di Bologna IGP, Salama da Sugo Ferrarese IGP, Zampone, or pig’s trotter, and Cotechino di Modena, a juicy, cooked pork sausage. Pancetta Canusina and Salame di Canossa made in the province of Reggio, are also considered local specialties. Then, of course, there is Coppa, Pancetta, and Salame Piacentini. The city of Parma must be singled out for its superior salumi. Culatello di ZibelloDOP, Prosciutto di Parma DOP, Spalla Cotta di San Secondo, and Salame di Felinoare all made in and around Parma. Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, the “king of cheeses”, is produced here, and so are Val Padana DOP and Pecorino reggiano, a niche product that was saved from extinction.
Pasta is also king in Emilia Romagna, thanks to the local cultivation of wheat. Fresh egg pasta is rolled and cut into lasagne, tagliatelle, tortellini, cappelletti, and tortelli stuffed with various ingredients like beef, poulty, ricotta and swiss chard, cheese, eggs and herbs. Bread can also be found in numerous shapes and sizes, from the classic piadina, a soft, flat bread typical of Romagna, to the gnocco fritto, or fried dough. Coppia ferrarese DOP and tigelle are other popular breads. Wine grapes are grown throughout the region. At harvest time, the grapes begin their transformation into wines like Lambrusco, Sangiovese, and Albana. These local wines pair excellently with the local cuisine. The grapes are also converted into vinegar. The traditional balsamic vinegars of of Modena and Reggio are rich and delicious, especially the ones that have been aged for over 10 years.
At Culinary Mischief we were lucky enough to have each course paired with wine, how important do you think this is to the food?
The right combination between food and wine is a source of ultimate bliss for every connoisseur. Both wine and food can benefit from the right pairing. The right wine can accentuate unexpected gastronomical aspects of food and vice versa, wine can shine in a new light when accompanied by the right dish.
Unfortunately, not every meal can be a big sit down affair – what is your go to recipe for a quick meal? What is Gabe’s take on ‘fast food?
This one is a classic and simplest way to cook spaghetti….only aglio (garlic), olio (evoo) and peperoncino (chili). Very typical recipe from Lazio: Rome in particular. It’s a classic example of cucina povera, loosely translated as “humble cooking,” appreciated all over the world. Just one secret: reserve some of the pasta water to make the sauce.
Even that sounds amazing! Do you have a food guilty pleasure? Be honest now!!
Food guilty pleasure? A well made, juicy, beef hamburger with bacon, cheddar cheese and avocado. Oh, don’t forget the fries, please.
Ah yes we have spotted the odd juicy burger on your Instagram!
What’s the future for Culinary Mischief in the UK?
CULINARY MISCHiEF UK is coming back in the summer with some amazing locations and, as always, a new, one-time-only menu. We feel very lucky to be able to share experiences like this one in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! The next experience is already in the making!