The evolution of epicurean expression that is Massimo Navarretta has taken many beautiful forms along the more than 30 year journey. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate enough to express myself with restaurants like Enoteca, Scampi, and now Onotria. Growing up on a farm in the vibrant agricultural Italian town of Caserta I stay true to my roots and it is expressed in every dish, as I share glimpses of the first flavors introduced to me as a boy. Starting from my travels in culinary school, I came to understand how through food I could clearly express the essence of each regional cuisine.

Forging relationships with what were, at that time unknown artisanal wine producers (who would later become known as the great producers of their respective regions), I isolated the pronounced flavors inherent in the soil and paired them with local ingredients and intensifying the flavors of each hand crafted dish. This creative and calculated gamble has lead to one of the finest and most sought after cellars in Orange County, coupled with a menu offering dishes whose flavors are complimentary down to your last bite. I am pleased and honored to have you as my guest.

Mangia bene, vivi felice

Friday, October 26, 2012

April Resurrection My Celebration of Easter

Its my wish to have a conversation, we're going to tell the truth, the real truth and nothing but the truth. I've lived in America for 30+ years and I love this country for all the right reasons some even for the wrong one, but most importantly I love it for the the freedom, the sense of space,the choices you can make or don't make, to win, to lose, to drown, to fail, but I always know that, the odds are not stacked against you, regardless of what they say. You can make change, and you can go places, there are fifty states, each one unique, and each one has a good, bad. You have choices. But one thing has always been very important here. The sense of dimension, the limits, the abuse, the absolutely stunning expanse of food, and drinks and commercial product which makes our country so wealthy. so rich,but also is our downfall. So you wonder how I lose weight, why, some people even went as far as to think something was wrong. Maybe I was having a medical problem, but if you're a doctor, if you're in a medical business, you maybe want to start looking at different people, because with me you never made any money. I'm very healthy, good farmer stock,I work hard, play, run. Unlike the American model "you work hard, you play hard" mine is very simple: work hard, play smart. Smart because life is not a sprint its simply a long drawn out marathon, and if you know historically in Italy we don't have good sprinters, but we have tremendous marathoners.
It all began because after many many years here going along, getting along, teaching people, cooking, I was having an emotional moment because I missed my mother, I missed her face, I missed her touch, I missed her embrace. So I felt it was time for me to spend some time with this wonderful woman who has given to the world 6 children, and with so little, made so much of it. So I figure maybe it is time for me to go back and spend some time with her, so Easter time which is the greatest time for me to go back to Italy, when you actually feel the spring coming. and everybody starts getting in a great mood. In April went and I was alone with her, which was special, I'd always been with my confidence, so she took full opportunities to let it all out, talk about the most intimate, the most important things. Some revelations, old news like all mothers do, but most importantly, she helped me in a very succint way to understand what is wrong, what is right, what is important, what is not,and so I started to slowly go back to my old life, the life of Massimo in the village with farmers,nice humble people from a humble beginning. Get up in the morning at five o' clock, just as the neighbors do my mom waited for me and she made the coffee. She would talk about this, and that, and the other things. Then I'd take a walk on my farm., Its a very large farm, it goes up and down the mountainside and I revisited all of my childhood spots and recollected about some memories and some desires that I had when I was a child. I thought about how much I did and I took an inventory of my life. not the foolish ones, wanting to be a pirate or a king. but the ones that are truly in your soul. Being a great human being, helping others, making good to my promise to be self-sustained, have an honest life,profit from your talents, and help others along the way. So all in all, yes, quite an amazing life, quite an amazing journey, met amazing people, went amazing places, but I looked down the valleys of my town, the smiling sun breaking on the bay of Naples I realized that the world is full of misery, and unbalance, but its such a wonderdul world, there's so many opportunities, so many great things. So I come back to my farm, walking home, and the classic image of my household from the south, there is not an abundance of a lot of things, we make most of our things, if you don't make it, you don't have it so I realaxed with a beautiful bowl of fruit a fresh vegetable from the farm, I ate my lunch, took a nice walk with my friends, every time you show up uninvited, unannounced, people welcome you with open arms and they always ask you if you would like coffee, a glass of water, so I take my glass of water because I already had a coffee and we sit down and talk about things nobody brings salsa and chips, nobody brings pretzels, nobody is trying to have a buffet of cheap crap, but just a good conversation, and what I loved about it was that I think intellectually I was incredibly challenged. and I loved it, it was all overthe place, it was about personal,it was about religion, it was about politics, it was about sex, everything was on the table and nobody ever felt offended, we were challenged, we knew what the conversation was about and I loved it. I visited with my other friends, we did the same, go to restaurants and everything was amazing because, sometimes when we bring friends from abroad. We try to entertain them, we give them a little bit of everything, so they get this wrong impression that we do this all the time. This lifestyle of abundant food and gluttony. For us it is about the company. We serve fresh fish, local meats that are grass fed, wild game, but always very parsimonious,without overdoing it. I soon realized, that by having these life rythms I lost quite a bit of weight, but I also feel very strong, very good, so in a moment of lucidity, I realized its not what people do or don't do, it is us, each individual has to make a descision. There is no excuse whether you're 30 or 40 or 50 or 20 to live a life of gluttony and a life of abuse, whether its alchol, food, or everything else, you can't get a different result than what you're going to see out there. Psychologically,some people lose their edge and they need medication. They stop feeling good about themselves, they always have issues with everything and everybody. I don't, I have some problems like everybody else, in my daily affairs, personal affairs, but those are not obstacles we cannot handle or live with. I make my decisions and other people make theirs, but in reality, we personally make our choices.
So what I did, after I came back to the States, after I took a large and comprehensive inventory of my existence I decided there's only one thing that I can do is to take care of myself. When I did that it was like a domino effect, then you're strong and healthy you can take care of your family, you can take care of your friends, you can take care of your business. That realization gave me an incredible level of energy and creativity and now I feel like there is no stop to what I can do. I don't see my age an the impediment. Rather, I see it is a wonderful asset to people, to my friends, to my customers; because I have the experience and maturity to know what makes sense, to tell how it makes sense, for who. And so this is becoming a very interesting life because now 47 pounds later;life adjustment, relationship adjustment, we get into a place where we can talk about it. If you're curious we can talk about it in detail, because this blog is about honesty, this blog is about food, its about wine, its about the politics of life, its about the politics of our religious upbringing and the way you eat. It affects the way we make our choices, when we work in our restaurants we know when it is a Jewish holiday, a Muslim holiday, a Christian holiday and it affects our pocketbook, it affects our business, but it affects us in a wonderful way too. In our Mediterranean tradition we are very inclusive and we are creatures of life and we love life in all its forms , there's no right, there's no wrong, some people think they have all of the answers. I'm a farmer. I know that there are good days, I know that there are bad days, but you always reap what you sow. You've got to laugh. You can't take yourself way too seriously. Stop walking around carrying the weights of the world. Lets start this conversation by saying let's all be a little Italian, when people say you're full of BS you say " but BS will give you a good smile and we need a little more BS." Salute

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Restaurant Vision

In the age of the internet, instant gratification and unfounded, uneducated comments, one could spend all day, all month chasing his own tail to try and explain or justify their actions or state of mind. Creative minds do what they do instictively and passionately. It was never my vision to cook food for people because their stove doesn't work. It has never been my passion to let people relive some childhood emotion or memory. My vision has always been about fresh, exciting ingredients, put together in a knowledgeable, innovative way that excites the senses without being intimidating to the consumer. From my first consulting job in '78 to my latest project, my main goal is to create a place where diners feel at home, and the food is always interesting, delicious, and adds value to their experience. I was born and raised in a farm land with many thousands of years of human experiences the roads that I walked as a child have seen Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Germanic and many other civilizations. When we are trying to express a concept or our thoughts, we have a very deep resevoir of knowledge and frame of reference. I do not use cheap themes, or gimmicks to attract serious and committed diners to my restaurants. From the commissioning of our spiral staircase and other rod iron railings by local artist Giovanni Capone, the silhouette murals of vineyards on the wall from local artist Aaron Norton, to the two original paintings of red and white grapes from the artist Michelli from Lake Garda, Italy; our real vinyard and garden in the front: nothing about Onotria is fake or pretending.
There is no fake ivy. Our goal is to create an organic environment for diners to come and have a fun time, experience amazing food, choose a great wine from our extensive, award winning wine list. So when you hear some people say "They may be a noisy place." I want you to know we play the ode to Don Giovanni by Puccini, the famous song "Libiam!" in which all of the participants were having a great time drinking, eating, and dancing, and that's just the way I like it. So for those who are seeking a quieter place, I suggest cemetery, church, temples, or just at home. And for those who believe erroneously that the prices are too high and our wines are too expensive, let me make you another suggestion, there are plenty of so -called restaurants that serve cheap food, and plenty of wine shops that serve cheap wines. But if you go out, remember that there are people working hard, supporting their families, and they are proud of their profession. Let's make it worth it. Its not always about you, its about the community we live in.
Salute, Master Chef Massimo Navarretta

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Autumn Flavors

Celebrating the season is the quintessential factor in culinary flavors and freshness- same as in life. If we learn how to enjoy the rhythms of the season we also learn a lot about ourselves. Growing up in a small village in Southern Italy surrounded by farms, hillsides, mountains, and waterways, you become incredibly aware of the sounds, the colors, the aroma of each changing season. Autumn has been one of my special seasons, for personal as well as culinary reasons. From the change of the colors of the vegetation, the rich textures of the fruit of the season, from nuts to figs, pomegranate, persimmons, wild mushrooms, tuberose, and roots, the smell of the earth the richness in flavors, is much deeper, much more decided,inspires the foods that we make during this season. As a young man having the freedom to run up in the mountains in the woods in search of the ovuli mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, pioppini mushrooms, smell the wild boar tracks, collecting the chestnuts and walnuts in their fields. I would see the excitement of my mother and the people in our neighborhood when I showed up with a basket of seasonal riches, as lifelong memories and as a chef I still feel the same joy when I cook for people using the colors, the flavors, the textures of the season. So now you know my excitement when, at Onotria we can finally start serving the wild boar prisciutto, wild boar papardelle, and the inherent excitement for the anticipation of the earth's most prized delicacy, the white truffle from Alba. Our specialty this season will be richer, like veal ossobucco, wild boar ossobucco and options for our friends who are gluten free and vegetarians, this season provides some of the most exciting flavors: casserole of polenta in seasonal vegetables spiked with persimmon and walnuts. Salute.