Growing Up Tuscan

Cesare Casella—executive chef and partner of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto’s two New York restaurants as well as the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center—tells how the tastes of his youth continue to fuel his creations in the kitchen.


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Photo courtesy Daniel Krieger

Growing up in the town of Lucca in the 1960s and ’70s was a wonderful experience. Because my family owned a restaurant called Il Vipore that occupied the ground floor of our house, and because my mother was a great chef and home cook, everything at our home revolved around food. Most of what we ate came from around the house; we ate the pigs from the farm and we used the herbs from our garden. I spent all of my youth around food even when I wasn’t in the kitchen with my mom.

I’m sure this all sounds romanticized, but my life as a child was really very simple and traditional, which is what the Tuscan lifestyle is all about. Now that I’ve lived in the United States for the last 20 years, I still love talking about the classic Tuscan food of my childhood because it remains the very root of what I’m doing now in my kitchens today.

Back in in 1992 I left Italy and took the job of executive chef at Coco Pazzo, then one of New York’s premier Italian restaurants. Almost right away I became a New Yorker—well sort of: At home, I did cook my meals with only a microwave and a coffee maker.  But the worst part was learning how to do my own laundry; my mother was horrified that I had to use a washer where other people also did their laundry.

After Coco Pazzo, I opened a restaurant called Beppe, which means “uncle” in Italian. After that, I launched Maremma, named after one of my favorite parts of Tuscany. My newest endeavor revolves around my partnership with Parmacotto, one of Italy’s top producers of cured meats. Together we opened Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto in 2008, and then last year we branched out into fine dining with Il Ristorante on Madison Avenue. It makes me feel very happy that I am able to share my salumi as well as locally sourced items.

As I’ve said many times, locally sourced food was a staple for me growing up and is deeply rooted in Italian cuisine. As for our salumi, I love sharing it with people because the traditional ingredients and procedures used to make the salumi are important to my heritage. In general, sharing good food with others is one of the greatest pleasures of running a restaurant and it’s is so rewarding to see the smile on someone’s face after they enjoy the flavors of my childhood in Tuscany.

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