A Chef and His Dad Tour Italy
The second episode of Master of None, season 2, when Dev and Arnold were traveling around Tuscany, reminded me of my own travels through the region (we even got our Fiat Panda stuck between the city walls). But the first episode, where Dev is trying to learn to fold pasta under the uncompromising eye of a central casting nonna, made me think of Chef Nick Strawhecker at Dante.
Nick had told me that folding pasta was one of his first jobs during his stage at the Michelin-starred Il Falconiere in Cortona -- women's work, he said the old-school kitchen team called it. So I wanted to know if his experiences mirrored Dev's. Instead, the conversation turned to a trip he took with his wife and parents where they all dined at Modena's famed Michelin three-starred Osteria Francescana and Nick and his dad speed-raced Ferraris around the Italian countryside. If you're fortunate enough to have (or have had) a dad who is a great travel companion, this blog's for you.
"The whole trip was centralized around me getting the reservation at Osteria Francescana," Nick starts. Since it was the ranking best restaurant in the world at that particular moment, this involved a Byzantine process of calling on the first full moon of the last day of the... in any case, no joy, they were already booked. Fortunately, Nick knows people who know people. At a barolo tasting in Denver, he was introduced to the importer for Paolo Scavino winery, who, with a quick text, secured a table on the spot. "I don't know the last time I was so excited about anything in my life," says Nick.
Once the table is booked, the restaurant emails you with the time of the reservation. Nick was bummed that it was for lunch, not dinner, but when the family showed up, they realized that it was the same menu for both, and the pomp and circumstance was in full effect. "There were about 20 guests lined up outside, and everyone was just as excited as we were," Nick says, recalling how the servers stood in a receiving line to greet the day's guests.
The meal lasted until 5 p.m. and Nick reports that everyone ate exceedingly well and drank their fair share of wine (except for a very pregnant woman at another table who had to leave a few courses in, but her problems are not our problems). Nick says the most memorable course was a simple bean and guanciale purée whose spirit he has often channeled in creating dishes for Dante.
The next day, Nick and his dad went to Maranello, the home of Ferrari, where they rented a 348 Spider (Nick) and an F12 (his dad). Each one came with a driver, whose job was to tell the Strawheckers how to negotiate Italy's famed hills and switchbacks at 175 miles an hour, but who also plied the father and son with wine at every stop. "We were a little nervous because here we were drinking gallons of wine, and driving million dollar cars, but they kept saying, 'va bene, va bene.'"
Somehow, both daredevils made it back to join their wives in Bologna, where Nick recalls another unforgettable meal, horse ragù served over bigoli pasta. "It was a pretty unassuming place," he says. "Like just a little cantina with great food."
All in all, Nick says that he and his dad each gained a pound for every day they were on the trip, but they regret nothing. "We fully took on the Italian way of eating and drinking," he says. "We all just had the best time on that entire trip, and part of me thinks that the food was so great because of how happy I was. Sometimes, I feel like a fabulous dining experience just reflects how you feel at that moment, and it can never be duplicated."
Having had a few of those experiences with my own dad I couldn't agree more. Here's hoping that all the dads out there have a Father's Day that's magnifico and many unforgettable holidays with their children.