Chef du Jour: Italian chef brings passion for pasta to the suburbs
As a boy growing up in Rome, Massimo Gaffo joined his mom and grandmother in the kitchen making fresh pasta.
"They were so passionate about the quality of the food they made. I enjoyed viewing their reaction when we finished," recalls Gaffo, now 44 and living in Palatine.
Gaffo attended culinary school in Italy and worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe before moving to the United States in 1997. He put in time as executive chef for Motorola Corporate Tower and Eurest Dining before joining Ala Carte Entertainment in 2014 as its corporate research and development chef. In that role he's charged with enhancing the menu at Moretti's Ristorante and Pizzerias throughout the suburbs.
As Moretti's get ready to open its seventh location in Hoffman Estates next week, I took a few moments to find out more about Gaffo and his passion for pasta.
Who influenced your decision to become a chef? My grandmother and mom. (They taught me) to keep a clean work area as you work, use quality ingredients and taste the food through the process.
What prompted your move to the U.S.? As a little boy I dreamed of visiting the U.S. When I came here in 1997 to visit a friend, I liked it so much that I decided to move here. I became a citizen four years ago.
Describe your typical day as an R&D chef? In general my job is to help and support all the Moretti's locations, build highly trained associates and to develop new dishes with my fellow corporate chefs, Norbert, Mike, Frenchi and Lazaro. We do spend a good amount of time together in our test kitchen in Schaumburg, working to finalize our menu for the new Hoffman Estates location.
It takes time, patience and skill to develop a new menu. While sitting as a team, we map out the next day's menu agenda. We continue to shop for the best, fresh ingredients, continue to "play" around with menu options until we reach decisions on successful menu items. We then present all to corporate management, Jim Earley and Michael Abbate, awaiting honest feedback to finally present to the owners, Fred and Mark Hoffmann. This process is how we incorporate new dishes successfully introduced into our menus.
What is your culinary philosophy? How does that play out on the Moretti's menu? I love to work with fresh ingredients and create tasteful cuisine. With Moretti's we work only with fresh ingredients, which are crucial for quality end product results.
How does dining out in the suburbs compare to dining out back in home? In Italy we offer lunch around 1:30 p.m. and all restaurants close until 7 p.m. Dinner is usually served around 8:30 p.m. Portion sizes are different in Italy, they are much smaller and three courses are served per seating. To-go containers aren't normally offered due to the smaller serving portions. In general if you did not finish the dishes served, it prompts the chef to visit the table inquiring whether you liked them.
The similarity between here and Italy is that we all enjoy food. It's a bonding tradition to spend time with family and friends around food. Diners are always looking forward to chef specials seizing the opportunity to try new dishes from our chefs kitchens.
What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? Flour. Different kinds and types are used for making pasta, breads and desserts. This is an essential product in the cooking process.
What are three foods that are always in your fridge/pantry? Eggs, fresh herbs (basil, parsley and rosemary), flour and wine. When my daughter was younger we would make fresh pasta, focaccia and breads in Massimo's Kitchen, which is what I call my Dacor-powered kitchen. My friend chef Christofar visits and we cook up a storm always needing these key ingredients.
What was the last meal you cooked at home? Beef T-bone steaks with fingerling potatoes and fresh steamed broccoli.
Do you have a guilty pleasure food? A food you don't like? I love dark chocolate and gelato, especially if I make my infamous basil gelato with dark cherry sauce. I do not like tripe.
Who do you admire in the culinary world? I am a huge follower of Gualtiero Marchesi and Davide Oldani, both Michelin-starred chefs. (When your restaurant is awarded a Michelin Star, it is a sign that you've succeeded at the highest level as a chef). I value their simplicity and style on how they renew and make Italian cuisine lighter and healthier. Davide Oldani comes often to Chicago to provide demonstrations at Eataly.
What do you do in your spare time? Love to cook and work out with my friends John and TJ who are both amazing bodybuilders. They enjoy my cuisine, especially my homemade lasagna and guacamole with chips.
Tell us about your vegan puttanesca:
Try it at home or at Morretti's, multiple locations in the suburbs. The Hoffman Estates spot at 2475 W Higgins Road, Hoffman Estates, (847) 885-0400.
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