8-year-old Parmigiano in the cellar at Antica Corte Palavicina

8-year-old Parmigiano in the cellar at Antica Corte Palavicina

what i believe about cooking

A quote from singer Andrea Boccelli rings true for me, and applies to cooking as well as to music:

“Music is a prerogative of those who are willing to spend time to study it, understand and love it, well aware of the fact that one life is not enough to improve just one single note of what has already been written and performed.”

In other words, nothing can be added to the greatness that has already been achieved. In simpler terms, Who has produced music greater than Bach's? Everyone studies him, to this day, 275 years after his death. Who has composed music more profoundly beautiful than Chopin? He changed our understanding of harmony and piano technique forever. Who has seen light more evocatively than Caravaggio? Than Artemisia Gentileschi? Than Titian? Likewise, show me a cookery book more definitive than Escoffier's Guide Culinaire. In French cooking, there's a book. The recipe for Boudin Blanc de Rethel, considered the classic version is defined by the French government, and is both a starting and an ending point. So, just make that, and make it perfectly. It cannot be bettered. It’s as good as it gets.

Classic preparations are what I attempt to render in my sausages and in my cooking; little is invented, nothing is improvised, just careful, focussed renditions of classics that have been proven over time and need no additions or changes to their greatness; anything else is a distraction. It’s difficult to hold such a position in these modern times, when individuality and personal expression are often the desired path. But the classics reward us with their greatness. It is not just valuable but is also satisfying to learn and understand these perfect dishes. It is our responsibility – a moral imperative, really – to teach them to the generations of cooks behind us. It is a way of cooking, and a way of being in the world, a way of begin a good cook, a way of being a good chef. It almost sounds vainglorious, or overly grand, and perhaps pretentious, but it is a way of thinking about food that seems threatened nowadays. To lose these classic dishes and techniques is to lose a repertoire, and to lose a culinary and a cultural history.

Moe Albanese in front of his shop

Moe Albanese in front of his shop

little italy butchers

elizabeth Street, NYC

In the early 20th Century, Elizabeth Street was a dense Italian ghetto in Little Italy, hardly different to the old country. Sicilians located themselves on Elizabeth Street, not on Mott, not on Mulberry, only on Elizabeth Street, where in Manhattan, they were among their own people. Little friendship passed between them and immigrants from other parts of Italy, who settled on the other blocks immediately to the west of Elizabeth Street. The area eventually came to be called Soho, an acronym for South of Houston, and later, Nolita, North of Little Italy, neighborhood names created by real estate agents. Over time, the area evolved from an ethnic community to a bohemian one in downtown New York, and later into the boutique-riddled neighborhood that it is today.

I lived for about a year on Elizabeth Street in New York City, in 2012. My apartment was a few doors down from the Moe Albanese’s butcher shop, which I frequented with silent delight. Moe, a Sicilian, is the last butcher in Little Italy. His family migrated to New York from Polizzi Generosa, a mountaintop town and commune in the City of Palermo. He courted and married a lovely woman from Mott Street, not one from one of the Sicilian families on his own street, just about as scandalous an act as one could imagine. Despite having started in another direction, Moe eventually joined his mother at the shop after his father’s death, when she was left to run the place alone.

Anyone can see that the Albanese Butcher Shop is still a community gathering spot for the few, mostly older, Italians left in the neighborhood, but it’s one of the last, along with Cafe'tal, on Mott Street. Moe’s patrons stop in, take a seat for a while on one of his two old, rickety wooden chairs, but don’t buy much meat. But they chat for a long while, mostly reminiscing about the old days. There’d be occasional purchase of veal scallopine, or couple of small pieces of sirloin for tagliata, but not much else. Moe’s shop offers no condiments or accompaniments, typical requisites of modern butcher shops. It feels like a long-forgotten time inside his shop. Moe is now 94 years old, and we all wonder how much longer he’ll run the shop. None of his children entered the family business, so there is no natural succession. Moe might the last of the last in Little Italy.

The best of the best

The best of the best

brigada de cocina

These cocineros y carniceros are the heart and soul – and backbone – of the kitchen at il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, whose salumeria I created in 2011, and which I oversaw in subsequent years. Each of them is an immigrant, fully documented. Some are U.S. citizens. Without them we are nothing.