Tavola Shares Culture and Cuisine Through Italian Sister City Chef
BY CHRIS SUAREZ | Jun 11, 2016 | published by The Daily Progress
With beads of sweat collecting on his face, standing over a charcoal grill topped with locally sourced goat loin, Tavola head chef Caleb Warr reflected on his culinary career and what it means to be a chef in a family restaurant.
As staff came in and out of the restaurant, taking trays of prepared goat meat to serve to customers, one staffer quipped that Warr’s infant son would be raised in Italy by the same Italian woman he shared his restaurant with during the last week.
In some ways, it was like any other week of sourcing, cooking and managing the Belmont neighborhood restaurant, Warr said.
On Saturday, however, it was clear that it wasn’t just a normal week or a busy weekend evening. Instead, the restaurant and its streetfront were transformed into a faux Italian street fair, complete with an accordion player and a variety of dishes prepared by Warr, his staff and a genuine Tuscan chef all the way from Charlottesville’s Italian sister city, Poggio a Caiano.
Working in conjunction with the Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission, Tavola has hosted chef Roberta Vivetta Cintelli as part of a cultural exchange program between the sister cities, Tavola and Cintelli’s Ristorante il Falcone.
After a week of sightseeing, eating at local restaurants and working (and teaching) at Tavola, Saturday’s event featured a collaboration of dishes created by the two chefs.
Items on the special menu included the braised goat loin, a rustic pasta salad, gelato with homemade biscotti, a wide range of drink specials and much more.
“She’s really impressed with the high level of cuisine in this city,” said Caterina Martini, a translator who has been accompanying Cintelli this week, whether it’s been in the kitchen at Tavola, dining out on the Downtown Mall or visiting the University of Virginia and Monticello.
“She learned by previous generations of cooks at the Falcone,” Martini said about Cintelli, who has been working at the more than 150-year-old Tuscan restaurant for 50 years.
“They taught her how to cook all the recipes because they are traditional recipes that are handed from generation to generation,” she said. “They maintain the traditions of Tuscan cooking, which is simple cooking made of fresh ingredients, a lot of game meat and fresh vegetables — all cooked in a slow way.”
With just five years experience as a professional cook, Warr said collaborating and watching Cintelli work has been a learning experience.
“Since the first day she’s been here, she’s been in the kitchen and putting out stuff … she’s hardcore,” Warr said, stressing Cintelli’s commitment to the culinary arts and a willingness to do even the most basic tasks, such as running dirty dishes or cutting onions.
“What I’m gaining from her is the development of flavor and how you put things together — ratios, ingredients,” he said. “The heart of what I want to learn is the traditions of Italy: hyper-local, hyper-fresh and seasonal. And it’s not something they do because it’s a fad or fun thing to do, it’s just the way it’s always been done.”
Warr, who will be traveling next month to Poggio a Caiano to work at Ristorante il Falcone for a week, said he’s excited to visit the country and stay with the friends he made this week.
”Spending time with them here, creating these relationships so quickly, I think it’ll pay off there,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be quite an experience to show up at their door and we already know each other. It’ll be awesome.”
Tami Keavney, Tavola co-owner and the wife of owner and chef Michael Keavney, worked with the Sister Cities Commission to facilitate the exchange program. Keavney said Cintelli’s visit this week made her realize that the culture of local, neighborhood restaurants is universal.
“It was exciting to see that doesn’t change even when you come from the other side of the globe. You could see it in the way they interacted with the staff and immediately bonded,” Keavney said.
Inside the restaurant and outside in the makeshift patio on the street on Saturday night, that relationship and Cintelli’s restaurateur-like affability could be seen, whether it was chatting with diners and kitchen staff or carrying Warr’s son as if he were her own grandson.
“We have added to our restaurant family, and I imagine they would say the same thing about us,” Keavney said. “I think it’s the start of a great, global friendship.”