Inspiration Abroad

Italy Has a Unique Sway Over American Chefs

Here, three of our most prominent restaurateurs talk about how our favorite boot-shaped peninsula influenced their cooking.

By Rosin Saez January 26, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Seattle Met

Agrodolce bacdmt

Agrodolce’s half chicken with caponata.

Image: Olivia Brent

Maria Hines

Owner of Tilth, Young American Ale House, and Sicilian-focused Agrodolce

I’ve always been attracted to those sunny flavors from around the Mediterranean. That’s what led me to focus on Sicily—I mean, the Normans have conquered it, and the Greeks, and the Romans, and the Arabs, and obviously, it remains Italian. But we shy away from using [Italy’s traditional] 00 flour or all-purpose pasta flour. We use heirloom grains from the east side of the mountains. It was definitely a huge learning curve—the pasta is a bit more toothy, and has a bit of a whole-wheat-y flavor. Now I taste other pasta and I’m like, “This has no flavor; it’s Wonderbread pasta.”

Ethan Stowell

Proprietor of a dozen restaurants, about half of which—Tavolàta, Staple and Fancy, Rione XIII, etc.—are overtly Italian

When you go to Italy nothing’s really presented very fancy—there’s no foams or anything like that. It’s usually just a bowl of pasta or some steamed clams or some sliced prosciutto and melon. It’s made our cooking a bit more relaxed: more approachable and definitely more family style. Not necessarily how it tastes but how it’s presented. I wouldn’t say our food goes farther south than Naples; we’re more northern. Our best sellers are stuffed pastas—gnocchi, ravioli—and rigatoni with Italian sausage and tomato…those things people know and love. 

Tom Douglas

Seattle restaurateur extraordinaire, including predominantly Italian Cuoco

One time when I stayed at this little agriturismo [farm], I watched the owner and her daughter-in-law make plin, these teeny, tiny little pinched pastas, just something they eat either in a red sauce or sage butter. They just chatted away like they do, but their hands moved as fast as they could, without even thinking about it. I was so struck. I came back and promptly put it on the menu at the Palace Kitchen and it has been there ever since. Martha [Francis], our pasta queen, has been making it since day one; we’re coming into her 21st year making that pasta. 

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