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Meat Dreams: Italian Chefs on Their First Meat Memories

Photo: zenlight / Flickr

Eater asked some of Italy's leading chefs — including Claudio Gargioli, Rosanna Marziale, Roy Caceres, Cristina Bowerman, and arguably the nation's leading pizzaiolo, Franco Pepe — to share their strongest meat memories. The results range from anatomy lessons at the dinner table to forced meat juice consumption to a deep fried something that's definitely not meat. Whether positive or negative, these meat memories made a lasting impression, which can be tasted at these chefs' tables all across the Italian peninsula.


Franco Pepe

Pepe, Grani
Italy's premier artisanal pizzeria, which is located in Caiazzo, not far from Naples.

My earliest meat memory was actually more like a nightmare. When I was growing up, meat was a privileged dish. Meat only graced the table in very small portions throughout the week. Now that I think of it, we only ate meat on occasional Sundays. My mother used to buy meat, heat and stoke the charcoal, then leave the meat to roast. When the meat was still rare, she would pick it up and squeeze it above a glass, wringing out the blood and juices.

Afterwards, she would call a man who worked with my dad and give him the "dry" meat slice. Then she would made us drink the meat juices from the glass. That is my most distinct meat memory and it still haunts me.


Viviana Varese

Alice Ristorante, Milan
Viviana Varese is the chef and patron of Alice. A new incarnation of this long-established restaurant recently re-opened in Eataly Milano.

Surely the meat dish that mostly recalls my childhood is the so-called "wedding soup". This is a pork based dish made mainly with scraps and organs. It's a peasant dish that relies on many herbs and vegetables, which would "marry" their flavours with the pork bits. After making the soup, we would add ground caciocavallo (a stretched-curd cheese made out of sheep's or cow's milk), which is typical of my native region, Campania.

At my restaurant, I reinvented this recipe but render it lighter by simmering the pork several times.Then I add two different broths — one capon and one beef — then seven different vegetables and finally the caciocavallo.


Cristina Bowerman

Romeo and Glass, Rome
Cristina Bowerman is an Italian-born, Texas-trained chef. She owns Romeo and the one Michelin starred Glass, both in Rome.

My fondest memories are related to my family eating goat heads at lunchtime on Sundays in the spring. I remember my dad in the kitchen preparing these terrible looking things with potatoes, rosemary, garlic, and thyme. I recall the care he used when placing the heads, split open, in large baking pan. I remember the aroma of the roasted potatoes wafting throughout the house.

It was Sunday morning and we kids used to get up late, miss breakfast and have lunch right away. Pasta al forno (baked pasta) was served first, followed by the goat heads. My dad used to give anatomy and dental hygiene lessons using the head. And then, he taught us how to eat the eyes. He would say "kids, hold your forks!" and then instruct us on how to pluck the eye out of its socket. Finally, the best part of all: we would eat the brain, always saving it for last.



Riccardo Di Giacinto

All'Oro, Rome
Riccardo Di Giacinto is the chef and owner of All'Oro, a restaurant with one Michelin star in Rome's First Luxury Art Hotel.

I have fond childhood memories of meatballs with tomato and basil. The house where I grew up is a small building where all my uncles, aunts and grandparents lived. I distinctively remember my aunt Adelfa would cook these beef meatballs with a lot of bread inside. They were so soft and light—in retrospect due to the lack of meat—and they would be cooked in a tomato sauce with basil leaves. The scent would fill every floor of the family compound and the aromas of basil and tomato are forever associated with that memory.


Arcangelo Dandini

L'Arcangelo, Rome
Arcangelo Dandini is owner and chef of L'Arcangelo (no website) in Rome's Prati district.

When I was about 13, I lived an apartment above my family's restaurant, la Doganella in Rocca Priora just outside Rome. The restaurant was very big and we lived above the kitchen. The room just before the restaurant kitchen was our home kitchen. There was a huge grill in the fireplace where in the winter we would cook tasty meat-based dishes, mainly pork and poultry. The pigs were bred in the wild, in the oaks wood in front of the restaurant.

My strongest memory is linked to "panontella", a juicy sandwich made with fresh bacon from those pigs. We would cook slabs of bacon over the family fireplace. It would release all its juices, which we soaked up with bread homemade by the ladies who worked at the restaurant. The bread was the whole-wheat Lariano-style, baked in a wood burning oven. We would eat our grease-soaked juicy sandwich at 5 in the morning before heading off to school.


Claudio Gargioli

Armando al Pantheon, Rome
Claudio Gargioli is the chef and owner of the Roman institution Armando al Pantheon.

Flash back to Rome in the early 60s. There was a cook at my father's restaurant named Costantino. He would make my lunch and I would trust him, I was a small child and naïve. One day Antonio the waiter served me a beautiful veal cutlet with fires. "Costantino sends this to you" he says "A real specialty!" It makes my mouth water. I saluted Costantino who smiles back at me from the kitchen. I plunged the knife into the meat and, damn it, it wouldn't cut. I tried again, but the knife wouldn't slice. Antonio came close and asked me why I'm not eating. "Aren't you hungry?" he cunningly whispered. I went red in the face but wouldn't give up. I kept trying to slice my cutlet.

Meanwhile, Costantino half laughed from the kitchen. Antonio the waiter laughs at me. Even my father was laughing. I was livid and on the verge of tears. Finally my dad walks over to my table. He picked up the meat from my plate and showed me it was not meat at all, but fried cardboard. They were all in on the joke. "I want real meat! I want my cutlet! Now! Immediatelyyyyy," I wailed. They laughed even harder. Breaded veal chop cutlet has always had my affections, in spite of the joke. It's a wonderful take away dish when stuffed between slices of bread. It's perfect for a picnic. Any other time, too. For me, as a chef, it is what dreams are made of.


Roy Caceres

Metamorfosi, Rome
Roy Caceres, a Columbian chef who has worked his entire professional life in Italy. He is the chef at one Michelin starred Metamorfosi in Rome.

When I was a child, I was carnivorous. And when I think about it, I have a lot of memories linked to meat. One of them is about my grandfather, who had Syrian origins. He loved cooking and he would make dishes, which made him remember his native Syria; sometimes he would adapt the recipes and flavors of his youth. One of the dishes he liked to toy with was kibbeh. He had modified it by making it with beef since lamb wasn't easily available in Colombia.

Anyway, my recollection is linked to mincing meat with bulgur, onion and mint. My grandpa made me taste the raw kibbeh meat mixture just out of the meat grinder, and I was seduced by the flavor of that slightly spicy meat. I think that is when my love for raw meat was born. Raw meat is not traditionally eaten in Colombia. In fact, I remember my mom got incredibly angry at my grandfather for letting me try it.


Rosanna Marziale

Le Colonne, Campania
Rosanna Marziale is chef of acclaimed Le Colonne , a restaurant in Campania with one Michelin star.

It was a custom for my parents to serve us meat juice in one form or another. They would quickly grill veal or beef, pass it through a juicer and either make us drink the juice on its own, or they would use the juice to season pasta.

Katie Parla

· Five Days of Meat on Eater [-E-]