~Cristina Bowerman~

By Kristen Pace, Editor
April 9, 2013
Cristina Bowerman is a culinary force to be reckoned with.  This week in Rome I had the chance to sit down with her at her latest restaurant Romeo to pick her brain.  From the moment she sat down with me I could tell that the only woman out of 24 people to earn her first prestigious Michelin Star in 2010 wasn’t helped by any stroke of luck, knowing the right people, or being at the right place at the right time.  This is a woman who literally emanates confidence, intelligence, grit, and sheer determination.  I was immediately reminded of a question one of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, once famously asked: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.”
Chefs often start as line cooks and work their way up.  Bowerman got her start by obtaining a Law Degree—not exactly what one would consider a minor accomplishment.  After deciding she had a greater passion for food, she earned her chops at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.  Being from the States myself, I’m well aware that Austin is quite the party town, but while other students were out at the pubs, Cristina was studying, practicing, and preparing for greatness.  She graduated with honors and never missed a day of class.
A desire to learn about and immerse herself into other cultures eventually brought Bowerman to Italy, a culinary landscape traditionally dominated by men.  She began her career in Italy at Glass Hosteria, recipient of numerous awards and national honors, in 2006.  In 2008, she was bestowed two forks by Gambero Rosso, and has been on the rise since then. 
During our conversation, we discussed the challenges of earning professional respect in a country that, in many ways, seems to be a few decades behind other parts of the world when it comes to gender equality in the kitchen.  According to Bowerman, Italians tend to see two sides of women: the housewife and the professional, but are not necessarily able to grasp or respect the concept of the fully-integrated whole, capable of success in both realms.  One particularly funny anecdote she related to me was that it was actually a great bone of contention in Italian kitchens of whether or not a woman chef was capable of regularly lifting 25 kilo sacks of flour, as if this were a task that Michelin starred chefs were routinely asked to perform.
 
Modern cuisine is in a constant state of evolution throughout the world, and new technology, techniques, and trends will continue to come and go.  Any foodie worth their weight in salt has no doubt become familiar with recent trends such as molecular gastronomy, new gadgets, foams of all sorts, and the concept of deconstruction.
In Italy, the culture of food is, perhaps more than any other place in the world, grounded in family tradition and recipes that have been passed down for generations.  Though I've been in italy less than a year, I haven't seen any topic more hotly debated than food and the way it's prepared, save, of course, politics!  Bowerman is constantly challenged with balancing culinary innovation while still ensuring that a traditional dish doesn't stray too far from the way her customers' mothers and grandmothers have always made it.  I don't have an Italian grandmother, so I can't say for sure, but I can't imagine a restaurant full of Italian grandmothers wouldn't walk out the door without begging Cristina Bowerman for a recipe or three.
Our experience at Romeo: We started with a beautiful selection of Bis di mortadella al tartufo nero, which we placed atop our pillowy, yet chewy bread just hot out of the oven.  Cristina insisted that a glass of chilled bubbly would complete the trifecta, and we happily obliged.  Our light lunch was off to a delicious beginning, exemplifying the delicate simplicity of the best Italian food.   
Our next treat arrived with impeccable timing, typical of our entire experience at Romeo.  Calamaro with arance, finocchi e olive.  The calamaro was perfectly cooked, the dish itself was light, beautiful, elegant, and the four simple ingredients were transformed into something divine.
We finished with a fresh, verdant Tagliatelle with pesto di zucchini, pinoli, and ricotta affumucata, which was quite delicious with a perfect variation of taste and texture.  
   
I can't end this article without mentioning, that if  you're lucky enough to have the chance to dine at either Romeo or Glass, plan on taking a short walk over to Ny.lon cafe (judged Best Fashion Cafe in Rome in 2010) afterward for the best jazz in Rome.
 

Cristina insisted I stop by, and I'm so glad I did!   It's located just one block away from Glass in the Trastavere district on via politeama 12.  Great music, relaxed atmosphere, and aperitivo galore.  If you choose to dine, there is fresh, inventive sushi and other exotic dishes, and a highly creative drink menu.  Tell them Cristina Bowerman sent you!

~Lidia Matticchio Bastianich~
Star of the 39-part public television show, Lidia's Italian Table, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is widely regarded as the First Lady of Italian cuisine and restaurants in the United States. She was born in Pula, Istria, a region formed by the Gulf of Trieste at the juncture of Italy and the former Yugoslavia.  She came to New York in 1958.  Her television show, Lidia's Italian Table, was released in September 1998 together with her companion book of the same name.  Lidia is the owner of the award-winning Felidia Restaurant and, with her son Joseph, runs the very popular theater district eatery, Becco.  A born teacher and educator, Lidia enjoys sharing her cuisine with a number of talented young Italian and American chefs at her restaurants, where she continues to prepare traditional and authentic Italian food together with them.
 
Felidia and Becco both have their own unique style, but common to them is a collection of revisited Northeastern recipes from Lidia's homeland, together with special dishes created and prepared by her native-born Italian chefs, Fortunate Nicotra (Executive Chef Felidia) and chefs at Becco.  In 1999 Lidia was named American Express Best Chef, New York City, by the James Beard Foundation.
Lidia speaks often of the energy and stimulation that she receives from her family.  A strong culinary heritage provides inspiration and fuels this mother and son team.  Lidia and Joseph's first venture outside of New York City was at Lidia's in Kansas City with managing partner David Wagner, a native of Kansas City.  The restaurant, which is expanding to Pittsburgh in the Fall of 2000, combines the cuisines of both Felidia and Becco Restaurants.  Other mid-size cities are in the works as well.


~Nadia Santini~
The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics. The award is inspired by the life and achievements of Madame Clicquot, who nearly 200 years ago, set the standard for women in business. The winner reflects Madame Clicquot’s attributes of innovation, creativity and determination.

Chatty, warm and utterly unassuming, it’s hard to think of a person further removed from the caricature of the top flight chef than Nadia Santini. Dal Pescatore’s regular presence on the list and status as one of the very best restaurants in Italy is partly down to Santini’s sublime regional cooking but her easy, welcoming presence can be felt in the dining room too and has contributed immeasurably to this family-run success.
Born in San Pietro Mussolino in the Veneto region, Santini was an extremely bright student, studying food chemistry and latterly political science with sociology at the prestigious University of Milan, where she met future husband Antonio Santini. The couple married in 1974, soon returning to Antonio’s parents’ simple osteria alongside the river Oglio in Mantova, Lombardy, just south of Verona.
Under the careful tutelage of Teresa and Bruna, Antonio’s grandmother and mother respectively, Santini learnt to cook traditional Mantuan cuisine: delicate handmade pasta dishes and home-cured meats and fish. Just like the magic that takes place in its wine cellar – a national treasure in its own right – Dal Pescatore’s brilliance can largely be attributed to slow paced change. Over the next 20 years, Santini would develop her skills and gradually put her mark on the cuisine.
 
In 1996 she became the first female chef in Italy to earn three Michelin stars, a rating the restaurant has retained every year since. Dal Pescatore remains a family affair with Bruna – now 84 – still in the kitchen every day and Antonio deftly overseeing the dining room. The children have also followed their parents into the business. Eldest son Giovanni works is at his mother’s side in the kitchen and second son Alberto works out front with his father and Giovanni’s wife. 
The fact that Dal Pescatore is the only kitchen Santini has ever worked in makes her ascension to the pinnacle of the restaurant game all the more extraordinary. Despite her background in food science, the cooking is not remotely high-tech – those that come expecting spherifications and espumas will be disappointed for Santini remains a stickler for tradition. 
It’s all rooted in what’s good to eat but regular trips to top-end restaurants in France – Santini and her husband have a great contacts book as befits their industry status – have in some cases helped turn rustic dishes into works of art. Tortelli comes stuffed to bursting with a mixture of pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan and mostarda while turbot arrives partnered with a respectably minimalistic garnish of parsley, anchovies and capers suspended in a delicate olive oil sauce. “The cuisine is refined but not changed,” she explains. “Dal Pescatore is an expression of the evolution of the food on our table and the surrounding environment.” 
So not quite like nonna used to make, but still rooted in its locality. Largely thanks to Santini, the soul and quality of the food at this idyllic restaurant looks likely to be preserved for the next few generations at least.


~Antonella Ricci~