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The Global Influences of Italian Chef Diego Negri

Roman-born, internationally experienced Diego Negri, the executive chef at NYC hotspot Saint Theo's, shares the five dishes that influenced his career.

By Diego Negri

9:00 AM EDT on August 14, 2023

a photo of Chef Diego Negri.

Chef Diego Negri.

Chef Diego Negri leads the culinary team at Saint Theo's in New York City as Executive Chef with a menu inspired by Venice and the Italian coast. Originally from Rome, Italy, Chef Diego imbues Italian cooking with global influences. He has spent 21 years in the hospitality industry, studying all around the world and cooking alongside renowned chefs such as Carles Abellan at La Barra de Carles Abellan, Alex Simone at Aurelia Restaurant, and Albert Adrià at One-Michelin-Starred Hoja Santa. After studying at IIS Domizia Lucilla Sezione Alberghiera, Chef Diego spent his early career working all across Europe and in large metropolitan areas including London, Madrid, and Rome. It was in Ibiza that he first took on the role of Executive Chef, then moved to Barcelona to head the kitchen at Bar Brutal. Since settling in New York City, Chef Diego has worked at Marea and most recently oversaw all culinary operations at Joe Bastianich’s LUPA. Here are five dishes that inspired his career.

1. Mozzarella in Carroza 

a photo of mozzarella in carrozza.

There is something about tomatoes and mozzarella that make me reflect about my childhood, especially my grandmother’s cooking. Growing up, I would visit her after school to enjoy a recipe she would make that consisted of a tomato sauce she cooked for seven hours each morning infused with fresh mozzarella and tomato. It made the whole house smell amazing. I have created an elevated version of this recipe at Saint Theo’s called the Mozzarella in Carroza. The dish is centered around fried mozzarella with raw tomato sauce and mustard leaves. The dish’s variety of textures, flavors and temperatures makes for a perfect bite that is both delicious and evokes nostalgia. 

2. Simple Tomato Pasta

Growing up in Italy, pasta was always a central part of our meals together as a family - no matter what part of Italy you are from, there is a type of pasta that is ingrained in your heritage. My family always made simple dishes, utilizing fresh, seasonal produce that was grown nearby. I fondly recall cooking and enjoying simple tomato pastas and both the simplicity and seasonality of this recipe is reflected throughout my culinary journey. I love taking humble ingredients and finding a way to elevate them through advanced techniques I’ve learned working in kitchens across the world. I created a simple Cherry Tomato pasta that is served at Saint Theo’s that always includes an array of fresh seasonal produce that is simply prepared, but to perfection. For example, this summer we had a Cherry Tomato pasta that featured fresh zucchini and basil from the market that quickly became a favorite from our guests. 

3. Ravioli

Pasta is such a fundamental element of Italian cuisine. Each region has its favorite type of pasta which they are quite proud of. I lived in Rome which is known for its variety of ravioli — the city has hundreds, perhaps thousands of variations of the dish each filled with something different lightly coated in a sauce. The flexibility of ravioli lends itself to unique recipes which came to mind when I was trying to create a different type of Cacio e Pepe. This resulted in a Cappellacchi Ravioli, a pasta filled with either short rib or red prawns that is coated in a traditional cacio e pepe sauce topped with crispy artichokes. The artichokes remind me of the way my father used to prepare pasta. When artichokes were in season we always enjoyed lightly fried artichokes on top of our pasta that added a fresh crunch to each bite. 

4. Gnocchi

The beauty of Italian cuisine is that it is rooted in simplicity and lots of sauces. Growing up, I used to cook at home with my friends after school and fondly remember creating gnocchi from scratch. We were young cooks at the time, so we would make very simple sauces — butter and cheese, and if we were feeling inspired, sage of course. Throughout my career I tried to find ways to make gnocchi unique and sophisticated, which resulted in my pumpkin gnocchi recipe, a simple base of gnocchi infused with pumpkin butter, Parmigiano Reggiano and fried sage. It’s an adult version of what we used to make after school that is both nostalgic and delicious. 

5. Lamb

a photo of leg of lamb.

Lamb is one of my favorite proteins. I’ve always been drawn to its pungent and wild taste. Not everyone likes it but I have found that people can grow to love it if it’s cooked slow and for a long time. It lessens the intense flavors that it’s known for. I now cook a dish that is sugared lamb served with seasonal vegetables. It’s simple, hearty and balanced with the sweetness from the seasonings.

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