Turns out, I had no need to worry. Chef Barsotti bounded into the room and greeted me with a warm, disarming smile. The young chef was quick to dive into an easy conversation about his popular restaurant and the dish he would be demonstrating in the kitchen.
"We've been really fortunate," Barsotti said of the success of Nonna, open just one year as of last November. A steady stream of diners hungry for handmade Italian fare were flocking to the restaurant even before a feature in Bon Appetit sang its praises. The article, detailing a variety of dishes from restaurants representing the "new breed" in Italian cooking in America, showcased Chef Barsotti's Taglierini with Bay Scallops and Meyer Lemon.
For our lesson, the chef selected another simple pasta preparation: Bucatini all'Amatriciana. It's the sort of rustic, satisfying dish you'd find in a neighborhood trattoria in Italy - the kind of place food travel shows are always raving about. And as an added bonus, we'd also be working with one of Barsotti's favorite ingredients. (Here's a hint: it doesn't have feathers.)
Barsotti's picture-perfect pancetta.
Like many of his colleagues, this chef professes a love of all things pork-related. At one point he raved, "Swine is definitely my favorite animal to eat!" Now that's enthusiasm. In the dish of the day, we'd be incorporating Barsotti's house-cured pancetta into a rich, tomato-based sauce with hefty dose of heat.
After the chat, we made our way to the back of the house to tackle the task at hand. Following Chef Barsotti through the kitchen door, I was greeted by the beautiful, bustling chaos that lies in the heart of most every restaurant. Men and women in fresh whites and aprons swirled around us, filling bowls and bins and ramekins with colorful bits and pieces. Dollies loaded with boxes and crates criss-crossed the room, and a radio blared classic rock in the background. I was reminded of my restaurant days as the familiar sights and sounds and smells of this behind-the-scenes work played out in front of me. But it was no time for a trip down memory lane; there was cooking to be done.
And speaking of cooking, you'll have to click here to see the rest of the story:
This container of leftover pasta lasted about five minutes after I got home.
I left Nonna that day with a tiny pink box of leftovers and a new dish to flaunt to my friends, but most of all I was thankful to have observed firsthand this talented chef's energy and enthusiasm for his craft. I hope his lesson inspires you to toss together a little pasta for dinner tonight!