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A Chat With Fabio Trabocchi


DonRocks
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Fabio Trabocchi, Chef at Maestro, will be here taking your questions beginning this Thursday, for six days, as our newest guest of honor (on Sunday and Monday, he'll be unavailable, but will catch up on Tuesday). Feel free to begin posting questions, and he'll start replying this Thursday.

A bio of Chef Trabocchi can be found here.

Welcome in advance Fabio, and thank you!

Rocks

P.S. And now a question. In your bio, it says:

Fabio discovered his passion for cooking at an early age, inspired by his father's love for food where he learned more than how to cook. He learned about food. His father was a farmer and even as early as 6 years old Fabio was his food companion. Fabio would often be sent to an old friend, the butcher and have him pick veal or lamb for the meal. The butcher usually liked his choice and gave him an approving wink or redirected him to a better selection. His father had no idea what kind of education Fabio was getting; he just wanted the best products. This scene was repeated at the baker, the vegetable stand and the fish monger. This is still the foundation of Trabocchi's cooking to this day

Your dad was a farmer, but was he also a good cook? Are there any particular things you two shared together as a small boy which stand out, and possibly still influence you today?

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Chef Trabocchi -

A discussion we had a while back centered on whether Maestro can be categorized as an "Italian" restaurant. Obviously you are Italian and several of the pastas I had on my last visit were better than any I've had anywhere (although I haven't yet been to Italy).

But what is it that makes a cuisine "Italian"? Is it more than combiantions of certain ingredients and flavors?

And do you find that people have certain expectations of what your food should be because you are Italian while, at least in my opinion, much of your cooking seems to transcend an ethnic label like that?

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Chef Trabocchi: This is an overdue thanks for the wonderful Creazione I along with my wife, daughter, brother and his wife enjoyed as my birthday present at Maestro last May. By the time I tried to thank you in person, you had retired to your office and I didn't want to disturb you. But Fab, it was Fab! Can't wait for a return engagement. :lol:

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Hello Chef Trabocchi,

Thank you for joining this forum and for participating this week to answer our questions and talk to us.

My husband and I are "repeat offenders", having partaken of your Creazione dinner at least 4 times this year so far, and at least as many times last year(Latest on Sept. 10, just after your vacation.)

I guess my first question (I hope I think of more) is this: Your menu seems to change almost from day to day, depending on what you have available. Do you have a huge file of recipes in anticipation of ingredients becoming available? Do you develop dishes on the fly--that is, when presented with an ingredient, do you develop a recipe on the spot? How long does it take, on average, to develop a dish? OK, to sum it up: How the heck do you do it?

I must say that, in addition to the superlative food, and the wine service that defies description, one of the reasons Mr. S and I return to your restaurant time after time is that we always feel welcomed as old friends--even on our first visit. We love that Marcia greets us by name as we get off the elevator. Fernando feels like an old friend, and the whole staff treats us as if we sign their paychecks personally. And Emanuelle makes us feel so special! Vincent . . . I've written about him elsewhere on this website. His expertise and devotion to his craft matches yours so very perfectly! I'm sure that you know what a treasure you have in your staff, because they do stick around.

Thank you for providing such a special, wonderful dining experience!

ScotteeM

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Chef Trabocchi:

Obviously, with your talents, you could work any where in the world.  So why the DC metro area and why the Ritz? (If they made you an offer you couldn't refuse -- no need to reply to this  :lol: ).

In the same vein - do you feel that working in the suburbs hinders you or your restaurant at all? Or does the fact that you are in a Ritz and are a 'destination' restaurant make that not a factor for you?

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Fabio Trabocchi, Chef at Maestro, will be here taking your questions beginning this Thursday, for six days, as our newest guest of honor (on Sunday and Monday, he'll be unavailable, but will catch up on Tuesday).  Feel free to begin posting questions, and he'll start replying this Thursday.

A bio of Chef Trabocchi can be found here.

Welcome in advance Fabio, and thank you!

Rocks

P.S. And now a question.  In your bio, it says:

Fabio discovered his passion for cooking at an early age, inspired by his father's love for food where he learned more than how to cook. He learned about food. His father was a farmer and even as early as 6 years old Fabio was his food companion. Fabio would often be sent to an old friend, the butcher and have him pick veal or lamb for the meal. The butcher usually liked his choice and gave him an approving wink or redirected him to a better selection. His father had no idea what kind of education Fabio was getting; he just wanted the best products. This scene was repeated at the baker, the vegetable stand and the fish monger. This is still the foundation of Trabocchi's cooking to this day

Your dad was a farmer, but was he also a good cook?  Are there any particular things you two shared together as a small boy which stand out, and possibly still influence you today?

I would like to thank you Don for this opportunity to answer hopefully all the questions. I look forward to this week long chat.

My father did grow up in a farm and was indeed a farmer himself as well as being a great self-taught cook. The economy of the region where I come from, Le Marche, was based on a share cropper system:

Rich landlords were allowing families to live in and manage their multiple farmed properties in exchange for a substantial part of their profit. In the 1960's this type of agreements were beginning to disappear because of the increase of taxes on property lands and for the aggressive competition of mainstream agriculture. My father like many other families was forced to move out of a farm in his mid 20s and was forced to take on multiple jobs. By the time I arrived to this world he was a long haul truck driver working a great deal of hours every week. One way for him to remember his past times were to take me to his friends who were still living at the farms. We would shop for an entire day which mostly fell on Saturdays and then a big cookoff was due on Sunday. You can image what an Italian family feast was on such a day...

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Chef Trabocchi -

A discussion we had a while back centered on whether  Maestro can be categorized as an "Italian" restaurant.  Obviously you are Italian and several of the pastas I had on my last visit were better than any I've had anywhere (although I haven't yet been to Italy). 

But what is it that makes a cuisine "Italian"?  Is it more than combiantions of certain ingredients and flavors? 

And do you find that people have certain expectations of what your food should be because you are Italian while, at least in my opinion, much of your cooking seems to transcend an ethnic label like that?

Bill, the cusine that we are creating in Maestro is Italian. What we often do is take regional, classical dishes and reinterpret them as well as gastronomize them with contemporary cooking techniques and modern presentations as well as a personal touch.

To answer the second part of your question there will be a lot to say in stating what is Italian cooking and what it takes to be classified as Italian. My personal opinion is that we have an extensive amount of regional dishes of all sorts, north to south. Probably our best exports are pastas, pizzas, and so forth but our diet is much more than that. Italy, like many other European countries, is rich in having mushrooms, game, beef, poultry, grains, and for all of those ingredients there is a dish that every family in Italy has a version for. My beautiful homeland over the past centuries has also been dominated by many other European countries and this is why there are many similarities with their cooking.

To answer the third part of your question...yes there is a certain type of expectation to running an Italian restaurant. I believe those expectations are based on their own knowledge of Italian cuisine. Some people are exposed to the obvious and there is nothing wrong with that. Making a great pizza requires a great deal of skill... Others perhaps are more fortunate to have experienced the vast and extensive varieties of Italian cooking.

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Chef Trabocchi: This is an overdue thanks for the wonderful Creazione I along with my wife, daughter, brother and his wife enjoyed as my birthday present at Maestro last May.  By the time I tried to thank you in person, you had retired to your office and I didn't want to disturb you.  But Fab, it was Fab!  Can't wait for a return engagement.  :lol:

John, I am really happy you had a good time on your birthday and I am even more happy that you chose to join us to celebrate such an occasion. I am sorry that I was not available to speak to you that evening but I am sure that we will be able to do so on a future opportunity I am sure.

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Hello Chef Trabocchi,

Thank you for joining this forum and for participating this week to answer our questions and talk to us.

My husband and I are "repeat offenders", having partaken of your Creazione dinner at least 4 times this year so far, and at least as many times last year(Latest on Sept. 10, just after your vacation.)

I guess my first question (I hope I think of more) is this: Your menu seems to change almost from day to day, depending on what you have available.  Do you have a huge file of recipes in anticipation of ingredients becoming available?  Do you develop dishes on the fly--that is, when presented with an ingredient, do you develop a recipe on the spot?  How long does it take, on average, to develop a dish?  OK, to sum it up: How the heck do you do it?

I must say that, in addition to the superlative food, and the wine service that defies description, one of the reasons Mr. S and I return to your restaurant time after time is that we always feel welcomed as old friends--even on our first visit.  We love that Marcia greets us by name as we get off the elevator.  Fernando feels like an old friend, and the whole staff treats us as if we sign their paychecks personally.  And Emanuelle makes us feel so special! Vincent . . . I've written about him elsewhere on this website.  His expertise and devotion to his craft matches yours so very perfectly!  I'm sure that you know what a treasure you have in your staff, because they do stick around.

Thank you for providing such a special, wonderful dining experience!

ScotteeM

Mrs. Meade,

First of all let me say that I am extremely flattered with all of your comments regarding our cuisine but even more importantly the staff recognition and their interaction with both of you. Without Emanuele, Vincent, Fernando, Marcia, and all others who are part of the team, Maestro would simply not be the same. I recognize everyday how lucky I am as a chef to be surrounded by those talents and this for me is as important as the quality of food we like to serve.

With regards to how we develop new dishes, it basically happens the way you are making your questions. It depends on seasonal changes and what ingredients are available. The foundation of certain choices and combinations are based on Italian cuisine and often I take the freedom to express myself through them. Most of the changes we have I always share with Stefano Frigerio who has been a loyal and extremely talented sous chef for the past 8 years as well as Nicholas Stefanelli, an upcoming "star" in our kitchen. With all of this being said there is always a touch of craziness and risk in coming up with a new dish and this is what pushes us to raise the bar and pressure ourselves everyday.

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Chef Trabocchi:

Obviously, with your talents, you could work any where in the world.  So why the DC metro area and why the Ritz? (If they made you an offer you couldn't refuse -- no need to reply to this  :lol: ).

John,

Back in 1995 I met my wife in Washington and five years after that we have been together in Spain and London. We always hoped to come back to this area so when the opportunity with the Ritz arised I put serious thought into it. Obviously they have been very good to me providing the right tools to build a good restaurant.

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In the same vein - do you feel that working in the suburbs hinders you or your restaurant at all?  Or does the fact that you are in a Ritz and are a 'destination' restaurant make that not a factor for you?

We are certainly proud of what we have achieved being that we are at this location. However, there has always been a feeling that we are hidden. I personally think that when you have such a weakness or disability then all other strengths need to arise far more than what is expected to achieve the ultimate goal.

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Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Chef - and for a wonderful 1st anniversary meal a few months back!

I wondered what you like to cook/eat on your days off?

Also, could you share your opinion on what some the top restaurant destinations in Italy are?

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Chef Trabocchi,

Your bio tells us that you've cooked in Italy, England, and the US. Have you found significant differences in the palates of diners in these three countries?

If so, have you altered your approach to accommodate the differences, and how have you altered your approach or use of ingredients?

ScotteeM

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...Without Emanuele, Vincent, Fernando, Marcia, and all others who are part of the team, Maestro would simply not be the same.  I recognize everyday how lucky I am as a chef to be surrounded by those talents and this for me is as important as the quality of food we like to serve. 

Most of the changes we have I always share with Stefano Frigerio who has been a loyal and extremely talented sous chef for the past 8 years as well as Nicholas Stefanelli, an upcoming "star" in our kitchen.

Chef Trabocchi - I echo the earlier compliments on your cooking and creativity and passion for what you do. I have enjoyed two wonderful birthday meals at Maestro (and hope there will be many more...)

You mentioned that Stefano Frigerio has worked with you for the past 8 years, and I know there are other members of the Maestro staff who worked with you prior to Maestro (in London, I believe). It is obvious that these relationships are a key element in maintaining such a consistently high level of quality, both in the kitchen and the front of the house. How do/did you go about assembling this talented group of people? And, in an industry where there can be high levels of turnover, how do you get them to stick around? (and we're very glad that they do!)

Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us.

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Chef, you once mentioned that Uliassi in Senigallia was one of your favorite restaurants in Italy. Have you considered having chefs such as he or Massimiliano from Le Calandre visit Maestro and cook with you in your kitchen? Or to cook in their kitchens?

Also, would you consider sharing your recipe for grappa risotto? Please....

Thank you again for creating such an extraordinary experience on this side of the ocean! You've put this city on a national stage.

Edited by Joe H
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Hi again Fabio,

I was Googling "Lankford farm," and coincidentally found this item on your Creazione menu:

I Pendolini

Lankford Farm Confit Cherry Tomato, Robiola Cheese, Sicilian Fleur de Sel

What made you choose Robiola for this dish? Not that it's any big deal, but your answer might provide an interesting glimpse into the mind of a chef. Was the decision to go with Robiola made in five seconds (Mozart), or did you tear your hair out and go back and forth between Robiola and other cheeses for five days (Beethoven)?

Thank you for such interesting replies so far!

Rocks

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Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Chef - and for a wonderful 1st anniversary meal a few months back! 

I wondered what you like to cook/eat on your days off?

Also, could you share your opinion on what some the top restaurant destinations in Italy are?

Alli, during my days off I take my kids to the grocery and I prefer to take them to fresh markets that are available where vegetables and fruits are visible for my kids to pick. Asian markets are where we purchase our fish. I basically do what my father used to do with me. I find this is a great way for them to be involved with the meal preparation. They end up eating things that probably they wouldn't normally. They get very excited:

Alice will sit on a stool working on our kitchen counter picking herbs or going through salad leaves.

My son Luca is only 2 years old, so for now I only let him touch the ingredients so that he begins to learn their names.

This is what I normally do on my days off...I cook with my kids, then we all sit down at the table to have a proper meal. It is not a real standard or a must do dish every time. We cook depending on what is available on the market on those days. More importantly I love to make very simple things.

Regarding top destinations in Italy...the two places that I would recommend to visit would be Le Calandre in Rubano near Padua and Uliass, a restaurant in Senigallia in the Marche region. I personally have tried both and still have memories about them. Le Calandre is a three michelin star restaurant and Uliassi is a one michelin star but in my opinion can certainly be a two star.

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Chef Trabocchi,

Thanks for taking the time to entertain us.

I've been fantasizing about eating at Maestro for way too long now.

My question is:

Who are your favorite chefs? Where do you really enjoy eating, both domestically and internationally? How about in D.C.? Is there somewhere that feels like home to you?

mille grazie !

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Chef Trabocchi - I echo the earlier compliments on your cooking and creativity and passion for what you do.  I have enjoyed two wonderful birthday meals at Maestro (and hope there will be many more...)

You mentioned that Stefano Frigerio has worked with you for the past 8 years, and I know there are other members of the Maestro staff who worked with you prior to Maestro (in London, I believe).  It is obvious that these relationships are a key element in maintaining such a consistently high level of quality, both in the kitchen and the front of the house.  How do/did you go about assembling this talented group of people?  And, in an industry where there can be high levels of turnover, how do you get them to stick around?  (and we're very glad that they do!)

Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us.

Jackie,

I am really happy you enjoyed both experiences to celebrate birthdays. I hope to see you again to celebrate yet another special occasion or simply to treat yourself.

As I have stated before I feel very lucky to have people around me that help me in making my job easier. Stefano, Emanuele and others who I have had the pleasure of working with consecutively in different venues are persons whom I believe enjoy the great chemistry of a team and the success that this produces. Regardless of why we are able to stick together throughout the years I am happy that I am able to count on them always.

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Chef, you once mentioned that Uliassi in Senigallia was one of your favorite restaurants in Italy.  Have you considered having chefs such as he or Massimiliano from Le Calandre visit Maestro and cook with you in your kitchen?  Or to cook in their kitchens?

Also, would you consider sharing your recipe for grappa risotto? Please....

Thank you again for creating such an extraordinary experience on this side of the ocean!  You've put this city on a national stage.

Mr. Heflin,

I would love to have Massimiliano and/or Mauro Uliassi cook in our kitchen. Or even better for me to go there so that I may brush up on my Italian... I will check with them for their availability and perhaps arrange something for next spring.

As for the grappa risotto, it is really not that complicated but to make it from just good to excellent then it all depends on the ingreditents and on the balance of this great combination. It is easier to do this recipe if we make it together at Maestro whenever your schedule allows.

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Hi again Fabio,

I was Googling "Lankford farm," and coincidentally found this item on your Creazione menu:

What made you choose Robiola for this dish?  Not that it's any big deal, but your answer might provide an interesting glimpse into the mind of a chef.  Was the decision to go with Robiola made in five seconds (Mozart), or did you tear your hair out and go back and forth between Robiola and other cheeses for five days (Beethoven)?

Thank you for such interesting replies so far!

Rocks

Don, I am in my early thirties and I noticed that if I kept going this way, soon, I mean very soon...I would not have had too much hair left. Therefore the decision was made within the five seconds you described. I love Robiola for its mild taste. It is very versatile and can be used in multiple ways. The cherry tomatoes on top of a piece of bread with Robiola over a summer day is the reason why this dish was put together. Obviously the tomatoes from David Lankford are some of the best that I have tasted in this area.

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Hi Chef Trabocchi,

Thanks for doing this chat. Everyone knows you as a chef, but few people know the real Fabio. What do you like to do when you aren't working? Do you have any passions? Hobbies? Does anything really annoy you?

On Sundays and Mondays (days off) I try to spend as much time as possible with my kids. I also try to catch up with my personal "to do" list of projects, etc. Lately in the past year and a half I spend a lot of time working on my upcoming cookbook, "Chef of Le Marche: Recipes from the Secret Italy" which will be published by Harper Collins and will be available in September 2006. I read a lot of cookbooks...of course just as much as I try to read about anything that is NOT cooking. When I can I take care of my car with my son Luca. This is when I relax and think about his future.

There is nothing in particular that annoys me but when there is...it is very transparent.

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Chef Trabocchi,

Thanks for taking the time to entertain us.

I've been fantasizing about eating at Maestro for way too long now.

My question is:

Who are your favorite chefs?  Where do you really enjoy eating, both domestically and internationally?  How about in D.C.? Is there somewhere that feels like home to you? 

mille grazie !

Meaghan, chefs that I particularly like are Thomas Keller, Michel Richard, Jose Andres, Eric Ziebold, Roberto Donna, Todd Gray and Cathal Armstrong. In New York, Daniel Boulud, Scott Conant, Shea Gallante, Cesare Casella, Gabriel Kreuther, Gray Kuentz and Don Barber.

My last memorable meals in chronological order are Ristorante Uliassi owned by Mauro Uliassi in Senigallia in Marche, Italy. Le Calandre in Rubano, Padua, Italy. Cru in NYC by Shea Gallante. Megu, modern Japanese cuisine in NYC. Daniel by Daniel Boulud. I felt at home at Otto by Mario Batali in NYC. Per Se by Thomas Keller. Public in NYC. Modern at the Museum of Modern Art by Gabriel Kreuther in NYC. Alto by Scott Conant in NYC and Café Gray in NYC. Absolutely loved Maremma in NYC, new restaurant by Cesare Casella. In Washington D.C. I loved Citronelle, Marcel, Galileo, Palena, Citizen, Black Salt. My next dining venture which is at the top of my list will be Restaurant Eve.

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Chef Trabocchi,

I can't believe that our week with you has already passed! I enjoyed all of your comments, but I have so many more questions. I hope we may get another opportunity to have a dialogue with you again some time.

Your sense of humor, your sense of priorities, and your sense of food are extremely rare and precious. I'm so glad to know that you love spending time with your kids. That is so extremely important.

Just tonight, my husband said he wants to celebrate his birthday, in January, at Maestro, and he asked me if I thought we'd have another dinner there before then. I certainly hope so!

We in the Washington area are so fortunate to have you cooking for us.

And, by the way, I don't think you have anything to worry about regarding your hair or your Italian. Both seem vigorous and strong to me! :lol:

ScotteeM

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I remember when Boris Becker was playing in his first Wimbledon - he was 17 years old, and the announcer said 'it isn't a matter of if he'll win this tournament; it's a matter of when.'

And so it is with Fabio Trabocchi. After winning the 2005 RAMW award for Chef Of The Year, can other major, national honors be far behind? At the highest levels, Chef Trabocchi is sending ripples throughout the dining world, becoming known as one of the truly great chefs of this or any other city.

Fabio, thank you very much for joining us. Your answers were articulate, informed and interesting, and people really appreciate having seen your human side. I look forward to emptying my wallet at your restaurant at the earliest possible opportunity, and am thankful that we have a world-class restaurant in Maestro right here in our back yard, captained by a fine ambassador and major culinary talent such as Fabio Trabocchi.

Thank you, Fabio, and cheers!

Rocks.

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Don and Everyone who joined in on this chat,

I would like to thank everyone for allowing me to have this chat so that I may share part of my cooking and personal life with you as well as answer any questions that you may have had. This was a wonderful experience and would definitely be up to it on another opportunity perhaps in the future.

Please feel free to contact me personally if you have any further questions that I may answer and perhaps I did not have time to do.

All the best,

Fabio Trabocchi

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