Io Sono L'Orsetto Angeleno
My journey thus far has formulated the parameters for my cooking style and a map to the next phase of my development in the kitchen. I cook intuitively and allow the ingredients to be showcased for their intrinsic beauty and taste. For me, sound technique is paramount. But I do not confuse it with superfluous manipulation or novelty for its own sake. I correlate ingredients whether by virtue of products growing in tandem, a regional or traditional reference, or a play between the relationships between flavors.
My only absolute is cooking seasonally. I do, however, have a penchant for regionalism. At present, my cooking reflects the collective experiences of my work as a professional cook as well as the culture and cuisine of my home, Los Angeles -- with significant Italian influences. Through my travels and apprenticeships, I aim to integrate further northern Italian regional influences into my cooking.
Here I will tell the story of my journey as a cook. I hope to inspire a dialogue about the story behind food and cooking.
An Early Love
My mother loves to recount how at age four I never watched Saturday morning cartoons but instead was glued to PBS cooking programs. Concocting semi-disastrous smoothies, salads and sauces was the norm by six. In my pre-teen years, I was assisting my father as he meticulously prepared for his famous multi-course dinner parties. These were the feasts of kings: Pâté, tomato water aspic with prawns, prosciutto wrapped grissini, an all-day ragu of brisket and sausages, magazine-perfect roasts, the lightest of crème caramel and anisette-laced biscotti. These gatherings were never just about the food, but about the people and the stories.
When I think of my own definition of hospitality, I make reference to my father and my family’s roles in the context of these dinner parties. He was the epitome of a home cook and host. My mother ran the dining room. My sister was the charmer and I assisted with the culinary endeavors. The rules were simple: Everybody was welcome at our table, the cooking was simple but painstakingly executed, and stories were just as abundant as the food and drink. These dinner parties have come to represent an ideal for my own cooking, aesthetic and persona.
Cooking with the Pros
On the verge of turning 17, I decided I wanted to try my hand at working in a professional kitchen. I wrote a letter to the father of Los Angeles Italian cuisine, Gino Angelini, detailing my love for cooking, my desire to pursue a career as a chef, and my absolute willingness to do the most humble of work in the kitchen in order to learn. In five weeks time I went from stagiere to employee in his restaurant Angelini Osteria. Over the course of a few years, I worked my way through the hierarchy of the kitchen. Little did I know that an eager letter and youthful enthusiasm would lead to an ongoing mentorship from a great but humble chef. In Chef Angelini's cooking I found a frame of reference for my own endeavors and in him a champion for my developing skills. Angelini Osteria was home during my teenage and young adult years. I would master my assigned station and on my off hours quietly observe the chefs and help with any task set before me. They would indulge me with tastes of the unknown: oxtail, truffles, and pheasant. But the greatest reward was increased responsibility and trust earned. Admittedly a love for food, creative expression and working with my hands initially attracted me to the kitchen, but eventually my work in the kitchen became more than just cooking.
Between my years at the Osteria, I was fortunate to work with Chef Luigi Sartini of Taverna Righi in the Republic of San Marino. Chef Gino had reiterated time and time again the key points of la vera cucina italiana, an adherence to time honored Italian techniques and flavor profiles - meaning eating seasonally. Seasonality is an oft-misused word that is used to evoke cooking with whatever is best and (hopefully) locally available at that point in time. It is dictated by nature and not by the demands of a fussy clientele. The Italians were not cooking seasonally because it was en vogue to do so or as a socio-political statement, but simply because it was the way of life. I learned to butcher goats, I plucked feathers, hauled hindquarters of cattle and meticulously washed dirt encrusted produce. The branzini were still in rigor mortis, the tuna was not a prefabricated loin but rather a six-foot long beast, the rabbits still warm from the kill. There was a true connection between the producers, farmers and the kitchen; it was exhilarating and encouraging that this ideal could exist.
Tradition & Innovation
Immersed in the Italian food tradition I came to find great inspiration in the classics and the regionally-specific. I knew what it meant to be uncompromising in one’s vision, to relentlessly adhere to discipline, and then to intermingle tradition with one’s personal aesthetic. I spent the next several years branching out to French and California cuisine and exploring flavor combinations beyond la cucina Italiana. I learned new approaches, broke the learned norms of classicism and further developed my leadership style in great kitchens across California. Now, with nearly a decade of professional cooking under my belt, as well as extensive sous chef and restaurant opening experience, I turn my attention to actualizing my own vision (which began with my father) of regional Los Angeles, Italian, and California cuisine with Orsetto Angeleno.
Before an Italian makes mention of her nationality, she will almost always name her city or region first. This local pride is much the same as my love for Los Angeles. I am an eighth generation Angeleno and it is this sense of place that guides my cooking and inspires me. The imagery I have chosen for my logo directly alludes to my beloved California flag, my “regione” so to speak. Italian food is often depicted as one cuisine and not the micro-cuisines of its many cities and hamlets.
I cook Italian food with a respect for the products readily available to me, and so at times, I allow myself certain liberties based on being true to the place I call home. “Orsetto” is a dimuntive of bear and the name I have christened my endeavors. In the simplest of terms, a bear is a strong and protective animal and in many ways my kitchen alter ego can be classified as that of a mamma bear. “Orsetto” pays homage to my Italian roots and culinary identity, while “Angeleno” is the descriptor for my personal identity. The heart is a literal representation for my motivation to both cook well and cook for others: love.