Missy Robbins, chef at Lilia in Brooklyn, and Fortunato Nicotra of Felidia, co-authors of the last lesson at Identità New York, edition n.10 (photos from Brambilla/Serrani)
The last lesson of the 10th edition of Identità New York starts with an “old” acquaintance of ours: Missy Robbins, chef who became famous in the days of A Voce, an Italian fine dining restaurant which used to be off Madison Park. After a sabbatical year, since 2016 she’s at the helm of Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a place where, as you can read in the restaurant’s pay off, you can find «wood fired seafood, hand crafted pastas, classic Italian cocktails, and warm hospitality». For sure, they have already received many important acknowledgements, the latest of which was female chef of the year from Esquire.
«Why do I make Italian food? Simply because it’s what I’ve always done. I have Eastern-European heritage, for 5 years I trained with Tony Mantuano at Spiaggia in Chicago. Since I was 28 years old, I worked for a long time in north Italy [including at Agli Amici with Emanuele Scarello] and I’m returning tomorrow: it will be my first visit to Apulia, Sicily and Sardinia, and I am thrilled».
The lesson’s dish: Ricotta gnocchi with broccoli and pesto of pistachios. «Everyone should keep some good gnocchi under their belt, they’re a very powerful secret weapon», Robbins explains, with one of her brilliant images, «Potato gnocchi, however, are hard to make every day, every week, every month at the restaurant. It’s hard to give a consistent texture. Ricotta gnocchi, on the other hand, are easier to control, handling them it’s simpler, and they’re delicious. I use this delicious cheese from Connecticut, close to where I was born. We make them and keep them in the fridge overnight».
Ricotta gnocchi with broccoli and pesto of pistachios from Missy Robbins. Wine pairing: Chardonnay Tellus 2016, Famiglia Cotarella
Risotto with Lavazza coffee and mushrooms from Nicotra. Wine pairing: Merlot Sodale 2015, Famiglia Cotarella
Does Fortunato follow memories or innovation? «There’s nothing more to invent. If anything, we can create some small evolutions», this is his brisk reply. As for the risotto: «I prefer Superfino Carnaroli to Arborio because of the starch it releases. I usually get the mushrooms from Oregon but they’re not always available». Meanwhile, he starts with the classic sauté, toasting the rice grains without oil. Aside, he prepares a fondue of Grana Padano matured 24 months. Later he mixes it with butter and then the final touch: «I added coffee beans to the mushrooms, because they belong to the same aromatic horizon and they have various, unexpected points in common». The risotto is served in a Lavazza cappuccino cup. On top, some siphoned Grana Padano and some scales of truffle.
At the end of the lesson, he gives a good summary of his work. «The best compliment?», Nicotra points out, «when clients leave Felidia saying: I ate like or better than in Italy. In the end, this is our daily goal».
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
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born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes.