Gabriele Bertaccini Owner, Executive chef il Tocco Food www.iltoccofood.com
Gabriele Bertaccini looks more like an Italian clothing model than a hardworking, über successful chef. But if you get him talking about cooking, dining, and Italian cuisine, it becomes immediately clear that he's much more than just a handsome face and an exceptionally well-tailored suit. He waxes poetic about the beauty of sunsets, the sensual side of dining, and his passion for bringing a taste of his Italian homeland to his guests in a way that's nothing short of inspirational.
This fall the chef's underground dining series, Culinary Mischief, will enter its fifth season and already the first event has been met with overwhelming success. Within three hours of opening reservations for the exclusive dining event, Bertaccini received more than 225 responses.
In the end, he and his staff will handpick just 30 guests to attend the dinner.
Bertaccini started Culinary Mischief in Phoenix in 2009 and the concept has always remained the same: Six courses. Six wines. 30 people.
Guests get to know the unique location of the dinner -- Bertaccini hasn't repeated one to date -- just three days before the event. Everything else including the menu, guest list, and wines is kept a secret until the attendees arrive. The chef calls it a "360 degree experience" that's as much about the food as it is about the surroundings and the people.
"I always say, 'I'm in the business of creating memories,'" Bertaccini says in his charming Italian accent.
The series, which kicks off at the end of the month, will run through May 2015. During each month the chef will host one event here in Phoenix and others all over the country and globe. In the last year or so Bertaccini has expanded Culunary Mischief events to gastronomic meccas including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Florence, Italy, and London, England.
As if that's not impressive enough, he's also working to open a restaurant in London next year. Called 59 Porta Rosa, the restaurant will be a "trattoria 2.0," in Bertaccini's own words. And good news, he also says he "absolutely" expects to open a restaurant in Valley at some time.
Despite achieving international success Bertaccini says Phoenix continues to be the place he considers home. That's, of course, in addition to Italy where he was born and raised. He came to Phoenix nine years ago after falling in love with the city on a family vacation but also admits traveling is one of his biggest passions and an important source of inspiration for his work.
"There should be a little nomade in a chef," he says.
It seems the chef has found a perfect way to balance his passions for both travel and cooking, though he insists Culinary Mischief and all his event are not really about the food. For the young, passionate chef dining is about bringing people together to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the moment.
"Life is about beautiful things," Bertaccini says.
Favorite ingredient: I would say squash -- oh, no! Porcini mushrooms. How could I miss that? Porcini. Do you know what that means? Porcini in Italian, in Tuscan, means little pig, little piglet. Because of the shape of the mushrooms.
One thing you can't cook without: Wine
What's in your fridge at home right now: Pineapple, Greek yogurt, shallots, aloe vera to drink, and then I have almond butter. Honestly, that's it. And white wine.
Your most memorable meal to date: I didn't have it yet. If I had it, my life would be done. My inspiration would be done. There are plenty of good ones but I didn't have a favorite one yet.
Your favorite dish to cook at home: Hamburger. I absolutely love a hamburger. One of my dreams is really to open a burger shop but, like, very interesting meats. Rabits and venison and wild board. For me, there is such an art to the perfect hamburger and there is nothing that replicates it. It's a mix between a sandwich and a steak. You have the vegetables. You have the sauce and then, of couse, you have the fries on the side. It's just perfect.
Your favorite place for lunch in the Valley: I'll tell you that I very much enjoy T. Cook's. The environment is so Mediterranean and so beautiful that I absolutely love that. And then Pizzeria Bianco is another one.
The most intimidating event you've ever cooked at: When I cooked for President Clinton and Chelsea and Hilary, which was a year ago.
What did you cook? Well, President Clinton is vegan so...we had a very interesting menu. It was difficult to translate the essence of a land like Italy where you're using a lot of cheese, where we're using meats, to a vegan diet. But you know, we did it. That was probably one of the most scary. It's not easy to cook when you have the presidential security all around and you have to go though a metal detector. You know, they're looking at you with those knives like you're going to do who knows what. But it was a very beautiful event.
The biggest misconception about Italy is...pasta and pizza. Italian cuisine is so diverse. People ask me to descibe Italian cuisine -- there is no such thing. It's regional cuisine. Italy is, was in the past, divided into counties and each county had its own identity and so even within the same region, take for example Tuscany, you would have thirty or forty different counties and each county would have their own dishes.
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You take for example a dish like capponata -- capponata is a sweet and sour rataouille, like a sweet and sour vegetable stew -- there are 175 recorded ways of doing capponata. So tell me which one is Italian? It's just capponata. Same goes with any other dish. So it's very difficult to say what Italian cuisine is. I say that what makes Italian cuisine, what makes Italian cuisine so good, is the story behind it. That's it.
So what's Italian cooking? I would say a mix between sapore and sapere. Sapore is taste, flavors and sapere is knowledge. It's a dance between the knowledge of these flavors and the products.
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