International Day of Italian Cuisines

Fortunato Nicotra: “Cooking Italian is all about using seasonal and local products”

Interview by Anthony Scillia

Q: Who are some of your Italian culinary inspirations?

A: Growing up in Baucino, Italy- a town near Palermo in Sicily- it was Gualtiero Marchesi who was my first culinary inspiration. Then a little later it was my culinary teacher, Venturini, who was a great inspiration. Then Luigi Caputo who was also the person who connected me with Lidia Bastianich, and of course, Lidia herself.

Q: What drew you to Italian cuisine in the first place?

A: I was greatly influenced and inspired by my mother's cooking. The smells that filled the house- it was an olfactory experience. I remember the smells of fresh bread, tomato sauce being made, and just the wonderful sensation of it all.

Q: Is there one traditional dish of Italian cuisine that was most "inspiring" for you and why?

A: I like the simplicity of traditional Italian cuisine. It's all about the quality of the ingredients. Two traditional dishes that inspire me- due to their incredible simplistic elements- are Cacio e Pepe and Pasta alla Norma. The base of these two dishes is really just 3 ingredients. They are so basic, but it's all about the quality. I do a version for Cacio e Pepe at Felidia that is actually turned into a pear stuffed ravioli. You can build upon these basic ingredients with dishes like this by simply adding something like a pear, and instead of serving it with spaghetti make it a stuffed ravioli.

Q: What is your concept of authenticity in terms of Italian cuisine and how important is it for the marketing of your restaurant?

A: Being conscious of seasonality is very important to me and to the mission of the restaurant, but it's more than that. Cooking Italian is all about using seasonal and local products, because each region in Italy has only the ingredients available at that time of the year to work with. So at Felidia, it's important to not force the "Italian" aspect as much as just being respectful to the products being used. That in turn is cooking "Italian." I like to implement a lot of great local products that are American into the dishes- to the overall Italian palate- and of course, there are certain imported products that I use that help round out the menu.

Q: How do you see the future of Italian cuisine outside of Italy?

A: I see it becoming stronger and stronger, because it truly is the type of cuisine that is an everyday meal. People just love Italian.

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