Friday, July 11, 2008

Chef Niko Romito

Buon giorno tutti!

This seemed to be a very very long week. I’m not really sure why. The new guy (Davide) started, so we had two extra hands; and we did not have as many customers as the week before – so who knows? At some point in the middle of the week I started feeling a little icky. By last night I had almost lost my voice, today it’s gone! I think I was close to “hitting the wall,” as my friend Carin might say. The 60 hour weeks are catching up to me. I did manage to sleep last night for 10 hours – which is unusual for me!

Well, enough of that! Let’s talk … I decided that this week I wanted to tell you a little bit more about Niko Romito. His story is quite fascinating. He is in his early 30's and compared to many other Chefs, he hasn't really being doing this for a long time. He studied Economics in college, and during the weekends and summers he helped his father out at the family Pasticceria (pastry shop) in Rivisondoli. In 1999 his father became quite ill and passed away sadly. It was right after that that Niko decided to change his career path and become a Chef. In 2000 he studied at Etoile in Venice and revamped the pastry shop into a restaurant. In the beginning it was very difficult. His vision of Abruzzo cuisine was dramatically different that what was typically served. People would literally come in, see the menu, and walk out. It was hard, but with the support of his family, especially his sister Cristiana who came to help him, things started to turn around.

In 2005 he was invited to join Jeunes Restaraunteurs d'Europe. This is a special group of talented young Chefs in over 10 different European countries. You must be between 25 and 45 years old to be an active member of the organization. Also in 2005 he received the Il Gastronanta d'Oro award. That award is given to 10 Chefs each year, chosen by the prominent food critic Davide Paolini. In 2006 he was named Il Giovane dell'Anno (Young Chef of the Year) in Italy; and was named Emerging young Chef by Gambero Rosso. Then in 2007 he was awarded his first Michelin Star.

It is generally unprecedented for a Chef in Italy to rise that quickly - but he is quite talented. Admittedly he claims to be a “self-taught” chef for the most part, with an easy going and welcoming personality. I feel very lucky to be working in his kitchen. He is experimental and creative, and always seeks the input of the people around him. He also takes a critical look at the menu and looks for ways to change and enhance the offering. For example, remember the “Cipolla” dish I showed you when I first came to Reale? It was the onion that came as an amuse-bouche. Well, he decided to do something different and over the course of this week he created something new. It’s a small artichoke soufflé in burrata cream, topped with a slice of candied artichoke. On Wednesday it started as #1 and by Saturday night is was #3. It was fun to see him play with it until it worked!

Well, Larry will be here in just 2 and half weeks to bring me home … I think I’m going to miss everyone here a little bit – even the pazzo (crazy) kitchen boys – who drive me crazy – constantly. This week they learned to say “come on Maria,” and said it incessantly. It was funny for about 1 day – but by Sunday was over it! 20 year olds – what can I do?? I will miss Cristiana the most. She has been so wonderful and so much fun. She helps me with my Italiano and I help her with Inglese. I’ve been trying to talk her in to coming to NYC for a visit when the restaurant closes for the month of May.

I’m missing you all too – and really can’t wait to be home to my little family and many friends!
Ciao ciao!!


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