Year after year, Nancy Silverton takes a break from her mini culinary empire to return to the medieval Umbrian village she calls her second home: an exquisite place where she refuels her culinary inspiration.
This summer, she brought along The Chefs’ Warehouse West Coast Sales Reps Linda Normandy and Andrew Brown, both former Chefs, on a curated culinary journey to Italy’s green heart, through charming villages, on a great race of intensity
and pleasure; the culinary spirit of Italy found everywhere.
This was a Nancy-driven tour, highlighting the craftsmanship of everything she uses in her restaurants. From foraged Sabatino Truffle hunts to never-ending piles of rustic pastas, this epicurean whirlwind showcased the country’s freshest seafood, its best pizza, pasta and espresso, along with its most celebrated dishes. Andrew and Lisa wound their way through Campania, home to CW’s Lupara Mozzarella and the pristine Caputo Pizza Flours, through Abruzzo, home to De Cecco’s skillfully crafted pastas, and to the Umbrian
source of Monini’s fresh, flavorful extra virgins.
And of all the stops on their journey, the undisputed highlight? Nancy Silverton herself and her liberal hospitality from which spontaneous discourse on Italy’s rich volcanic soils flowed. It’s impossible to listen to Andrew and Linda’s culinary tour-de-force, a journey too short for diets, without a heaping gluttonous envy.
“In Umbria, the food is simple and all the menus are the same,” Nancy Silverton says. But to hear Andrew and Lisa tell it, from the bountiful fresh seafood to the countless
generations of culinary wisdom, it’s a glorious simplicity, indeed.
Linda reminisces of a coastal cove, just south of Rome, where after a guided boat tour of the harbor the group indulge in pizza she describes as, “the soul of the Napoli people.” It’s no
wonder the Caputo family heritage flours play a foundational role in the area’s classic Napoleon Pie, one she simply describes as ‘the BEST’.
Andrew details the super-fresh seafood pulled from the Gulf of Napoli and the sumptuous baby octopus. They’d been eating so much pasta, this freshest fish provides startling contrast, as does the freshest produce served alongside, picked just that morning.
And, oh, the pasta. Andrew talks of the 10-course tasting: simply over the top, and the 10 lbs. he likely gained over the course of the week. “Italians don’t believe in tasting sizes,” Linda adds. They delve into the details of their De Cecco pasta cutting, crafted from two ingredients: fresh Molino semolina and water. They discuss salinity level differences, bronze dyes and plates, and De Cecco’s unique al dente factor.
Their journey winds through Monini. Andrew digs the nuance of the Monini family taste masters and remarks how in real time Father and Son work in their office-lab, a continuance of
generations of family history, and how the family multitasks their tasting responsibilities with the fallout from a storm that blew in that day with a freeze crippling the crop from their nearby olive groves.
Then there was the incredible Lupara Mozzarella tasting, showcasing the tasting note differences from the bufala milk’s different stages; differences in flavor and texture, from super-fresh acidity to pure cream once the acidity subsides. Linda notes the suppleness of the giant water buffalo–gentle, friendly giants, like large dogs, and of Emanuella, the woman who gave them a personal tour, and how great it was to see things being made.
And then the truffle hunt which starts with an early morning drive winding up a mountain road. In an hour they pick up a kilo of summer truffles. Linda describes the dogs, who think it’s all a game, and get treated better than the wives. The excursion is followed by a truffle cleaning at the Sabatino truffle factory where they indulged yet again on a 9-course meal complete with fresh truffles, truffle oil, truffle salt, and truffle zest.
Their last night in Rome, they go to a small little place, a local gem that Anthony Bourdain highlighted in one his last shows. “Anthony didn’t say the name of it,” Linda says. But Nancy knew the mother/son team. And during their meal, the owners remember this ‘American Anthony’, they appreciate the doors he opened and reminisce his personality that still burns bright.
Looking back on his tour Andrew says, “It opened my eyes to the depths of our vendors.” Beyond tradition, “there’s this vast amount of money in R&D, tech, and the science behind it. It’s eye-opening.” He continues, “In my mind, I thought this trip would be just about the countryside; the old school.” But beyond the quaintness of the charming Italian towns, these artisan vendors are all definitely firmly rooted in the 21st century.