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How Food Memories of Italy Inspire Chef Mauro Campanale

Chef Mauro Campanale was born in Bari, Italy, in the region of Puglia. As a young boy, he started working at his family's agriturismo, where he discovered his passion for cooking. At age 19, he left Italy to explore the world and worked in various cities, including São Paulo, Milan, and London. He arrived in New York City in 2018 to cook at Antica Pesa Brooklyn, where he is now executive chef. Mauro is proud to represent the authentic flavors of Italian cuisine, and he is constantly experimenting with new techniques and ingredients to create his exciting menu. Here are some of the dishes that inspired his career.

Octopus and Roots

Octopus with roots comes from a summer childhood memory. Although my city of Bari is mainly known for its seafood, I spent my adolescence in the countryside, leading to a culinary memory battle between land and sea.
Octopus and roots was born to honor this struggle, combining an element of the sea with something earthly and almost primordial, as the root comes before the fruit. In each season, I like to change the roots I use. For the winter, I used parsley root, burnt sunchokes, and licorice, all served with a potato and leek foam.

Lasagna
Every Italian Sunday smells of grandma's ragù, and it's rare to find an Italian who admits to having eaten a better lasagna than the one their mother or grandmother made. Italian comfort food is part of our culture, almost a religion, and lasagna can certainly be considered the messiah. I wanted to challenge every Italian grandma with a modern but respectful version of the dish without changing the original recipe. The lasagna we serve at Antica Pesa starts with a classic soffritto cooked in beef marrow, followed by less popular cuts of meat, like beef cheek and tail and pork capocollo. Then it's cooked for 72 hours over low heat. Every time a lasagna comes out on my pass, I think of my grandma Rosa, because I am Italian, and the best lasagna is always that of my grandma, even though she's no longer with us. Ciao Nonna!

Vitello Tonnato
Although Piedmont is far from my region of origin, vitello tonnato is one of the dishes that accompanied me in my childhood. I remember those veal dishes (often overcooked) with that heavy mayonnaise and canned tuna sauce. The intense taste attracted me, and now I have tried to replicate it using more modern techniques and carefully selected ingredients with gentler cooking to preserve the quality of the food used. The Vitello Tonnato on the Antica Pesa menu is made using top round veal, wrapped in herbs and cooked at low temperature in a steam oven. The tonnato sauce is made with Cetara anchovies and fresh local tuna, which is whipped with nitrogen in a siphon. We also use Sicilian capers and a mayonnaise made with anchovy oil. The dish is completed with a reduction of brown stock obtained from the veal bones.

Caponata
I was traveling to Palermo with my partner to visit her family. During dinner with her family, a strong smell of vegetables, good oil, and honesty overwhelmed me, and her grandmother shouted for me to come and see her caponata, her pride and her love shown through these fried eggplants. It struck me deeply, and on the return flight, I thought about how to honor Nonna Nella by bringing what she had taught me to the Antica Pesa menu. And that's how we created our roasted eggplant dish, served with caponata and a fondue of Puglian caciocavallo, in memory of a beautiful summer visit to the home of my partner.

“Nido” 

The smell of fresh fava beans and the pungent taste of Pecorino cheese whipped in a copper pot take me back to my adolescence spent in Puglia. I've adapted these wonderful memories into a dish that pays homage to a classic from Antica Pesa restaurant in Rome: "Nido" (nest). This dish visually represents a nest, achieved through the use of Kataifi pastry, which has a perfect crunch and lightness that complements the creaminess of the Pecorino cheese and the low-temperature cooked egg. The use of just-scalded fava beans and the Pecorino cheese sauce whipped in a copper pot give the dish a unique harmony of flavors and freshness, while the garnish of Italian summer truffle adds a touch of luxury and refinement. Preparing this dish requires a lot of attention and care to detail, but the final result is undoubtedly surprising and delicious. I hope that "Nido" will transport you to the smells and tastes of your own childhood, creating new and unforgettable memories. Because all of us need have a little “Nido” inside the memories.

The memory-inspired dishes of Chef Mauro can be found at Antica Pesa Brooklyn. You can follow him on Instagram.

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