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Michael’s chef-owner talks American cuisine

Michael’s chef-owner talks American cuisine


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The farm-to-table movement has been all the rage at independent restaurants in recent years, but Michael McCarty, a pioneer in defining American cuisine, has been sourcing from local farms at his restaurants on both coasts for decades.

The chef-owner of Michael’s in Santa Monica, Calif., which opened in 1979, and of Michael’s in New York City, which has been a hot spot for power brokers since it opened in 1989, has long focused on using simple, straightforward ingredients.

In the first of a two-part interview, McCarty discusses the origins of American cuisine.

Not many people thought an American cuisine even existed in the 1970s. How did you get the idea to promote it?

When I opened Michael’s in 1979, if anyone asked you in any American city, what’s the best restaurant in town? It was a classical French restaurant.

I had been trained in really classical French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu and the Hotel & Restaurant School in Paris.

But at that time, in the early 1970s, I was also exposed to the nouvelle cuisine revolution that was going on in France. And seeing already the dichotomy from 1969 through ’74-’75, seeing the changes French cuisine had gone through.

I also remembered my parents and their friends and how they threw these crazy parties in the 1950s and ’60s.

They didn’t intellectualize about food. There was none of what you hear about today — where it comes from, this and that, blah blah blah.

We had a little shack house on the beach in Rhode Island and we’d go there from Memorial Day to Labor Day. My mom would go down to the wharf to the same Portuguese fisherman. There’d be sitting there on the table a 2,000-pound swordfish — none of these little guys you see now, but a real swordfish.

He loved my mom, so he’d cut that center piece from the fish. His wife grew all the greens. So we had arugula, basil, beautiful tomatoes, zucchini flower blossoms — all of this stuff in the ’50s and ’60s.

The guy next to us at our beach house drove every Memorial Day from Liberal, Kan. He had the Kansas City Meatpacking Company. His son Johnny would drive a semi-truck. Inside that [refrigerated] truck was every possible cut of beef from the Midwest, aged — all this stuff that no one really knew about. We ate through that truck all summer. Whatever was left on Labor Day weekend, we’d have a bash with 20 families, and they’d just eat up whatever was left.

That’s how I learned about American food.

What was your vision when you opened Michael’s?

When we opened Michael’s in Santa Monica we called it California cuisine, which became regional American cuisine. Because that’s what it was; it just happened to be what was grown in California.

I wanted to have a restaurant that was based on French cooking — the Escoffier and the modern — but not stupid, not formal. I wanted it to be really fun, a combination of brasserie and bistro, but American style and all based on ingredients.

Instead of tuxedos, I found a little-known designer named Ralph Lauren. So we had a blast: jazz music, real art on the walls instead of posters.

I had a duck farm with Jean Bertranou [chef-owner of the former L’Ermitage restaurant in Los Angeles] for three years before opening the restaurant. We made the first foie gras in America. We snuck in the ducks: Paul Bocuse [in Lyon, France] took the eggs and wrapped them in gold, so they looked like chocolate. We brought in two dozen of those puppies and quickly got them hatched. That was 1976 to ’79.

We had 30,000 ducks at any given time. But Jean died right as I was building my restaurant. He had a girlfriend of 10 years, but his wife in France inherited his half of the farm.

So we sold it to our manager who also raised our quail and our rabbit. It was a wild time and a simpler time.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

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WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

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WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.


Bastianich makes everyone feel at home

Chef-owner Michael Schlow (left) of Alta Strada chats with chef de cuisine Matthew DiBiccari and TV chef Lidia Bastianich. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

E-mail this article

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

WELLESLEY - It’s a big night for Matthew DiBiccari, the improbably young chef de cuisine of Alta Strada restaurant. DiBiccari is rail-thin, quiet but intense, and unmistakably Italian-American. The Lynnfield native, whose immigrant grandmother inspired his culinary career, says that for two days, he and his staff have been perfecting seven dishes from Lidia Bastianich’s latest cookbook, scaling up the recipes for tonight’s 100 guests.

For many cooks, Bastianich, the celebrated TV personality, is the Italian grandmother they never had, sharing recipes, stories of the old country, and wisdom. For close to a decade, her PBS cooking shows have provided a warm antidote to the spikey-haired emcees and chesty babes on other shows. Whatever Bastianich is cooking, the message is: Come to the table and eat together. “When a family cooks my recipes, they are inviting me into their home,’’ she says, spooning fragrant leg of lamb with olives and rosemary onto a plate. “I take that seriously.’’ Bastianich is in town to promote “Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy,’’ a blend of memoir, travel guide, and art history primer.

DiBiccari and the Alta Strada staff have chosen the lamb as the main course. It was preceded by tortelli, pasta filled with Swiss chard and ricotta. As she tastes it, she smiles and gestures to the kitchen, in particular to the line cooks. “Delicious. Very nicely done!’’ DiBiccari looks down, trying hard to suppress a smile and a swell of pride.

Bastianich, 62, knows about the importance of feeling at home. She was born in Istria (now Croatia), 11 days after Italy was forced to give up the region to the newly formed Yugoslavia. Like many Italians living there, her family fled to Italy, then emigrated to New York. As a girl she worked in several Italian restaurants, then two of her own, before opening Felidia in 1981.

She now owns five restaurants (in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City), a TV production company (Tavola Productions), and, with her son Joe, two vineyards in Italy (Azienda Agricola Bastianich in Friuli, and La Mozza in Tuscany). With her daughter, Tanya, she founded a travel company that offers tours of Italy focused on food, art, and history.

Increasingly Bastianich has become an ambassador for Italian culture and an icon for Italian-Americans. This book, her sixth, recently held the No. 1 sales ranking on Amazon.com in the categories of Italian cooking, Italian travel, and Italian history. Bastianich’s own occasionally out-of-focus travel photos are interspersed with professionally styled shots of food. The book is personal and a learning experience - much like spending time with her. It also features innovations like color-coded ingredient lists, and engaging paragraph-long recipe “steps’’ that neatly encapsulate her own take on the dish if she were cooking it herself.

What delights many of her female fans is that the whole family likes Bastianich. At a book signing in Wellesley earlier that evening, mothers brought their daughters, and, just as often, daughters brought their mothers. There’s a warmth and maternal wisdom about Bastianich. Viewers will recognize the phrase with which she closes each episode of her show: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!’’ (Everyone come to the table to eat!) It’s a powerful precept in an era of disconnection. Pouring me a glass of wine, she offers advice on my 14-year-old niece, the same advice she would give anyone dining with teenagers. “Get her to the dinner table, every night,’’ she says. “When she’s hungry, those defenses are down. And the food is delicious.’’ She motions to a plate of farro with roasted pepper sauce, and potatoes with peperoncino. “Then you can talk with her.’’

Those potatoes, made with starchy russets, are simply boiled, peeled, salted, and then elevated to a stunning dish with a drizzle of olive oil heated with garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper. The recipe will change the way you think about boiled potatoes.

Even Alta Strada owner Michael Schlow looks to Bastianich for approval. When a serving of lamb goes to a table with a sauce that doesn’t cling to the meat, Schlow, a “Top Chef’’ veteran, goes running off to the kitchen like a schoolboy scrambling to please his teacher.

Every seat at the restaurant has been reserved on this night. With the food come wines from the Bastianich vineyards. From her spot at the end of the bar, Bastianich surveys the room. It’s animated and content, which is what good food and good wine are supposed to do.

Dessert goes out, a torta di mandorle (almond torta with chocolate chips), and DiBiccari is done. He smiles shyly at Bastianich, joins some guests at one of the tables, and settles in. There’s no fanfare, no grandstanding. Just everyone at the table, to eat.