is the "ambassador" of the Italian Cuisine in the world. In the
United States, where numbers are all that matter, he is considered,
by his very colleagues and competitors, the best restorateur of
all. Not everyone knows, though, that behind that by now famous
name, there is one of all those Sicilians, that working hard has
made out a fortune of nothing.
is the owner of the best famous "Valentino", restaurant
of vips, in Santa Monica, California, and has, in spite of his notoriety,
never given up or neglected his roots. He is born in Modica, where
still lives the aged mother and a aunt of his, beside the multitude
of friends, who lovely greet and welcome him every time he comes
back over there.
the "Valentino", Selvaggio runs two other restaurants:
the "Primi" and the "Posto".
"I opened two restaurants in Vegas a year ago, within the Hotel
Venetian", "still there, two more are coming and they're about to
convince me to open a Wine Bar in Tribeca, exclusive quarter in
Manhattan, New York.
reached Selvaggio in his office, at the 3115 of Pico Boulevard,
Santa Monica, California. He tells us he was 18 when he left Modica
and moved to New York. The not so usual story of a self-taught and
made-man that before creating an empire has worked hard, as a dishwasher,
chauffer, at the service of important people and vips, some of whom
still received in his best gourmet restaurants.
presume, Mr. Selvaggio, that the secret of your success much lies
in the offer of Italian food. Do you also offer Sicilian specialties?
like - he talks in the plural, constantly referring to his chef
and team - to call it "Italian contemporary", since we use to serve
dishes of our own, dishes evolved and grown up with us, throughout
years of adjustments and experience. In 2000 the "Valentino" turned
28 years from his opening. Dishes like the "Timballo alla Norma"
or the "Involtini di Pesce Spada" are extremely loved. Yet, they
need adjustments. I mean that the "Involtini" are served on a bed
of onions, according to the original recipe, but Hawaiian onions.
The "Timballo", as well, is adjusted with Japanese aubergines, sweeter
and less salted then those we are used there, in Sicily'.
do you import from Italy, or Sicily?
of items. From the capers of Salina to the botargo of Muggine, the
buffalo's mozzarella of Battipaglia, the "pomodorini" of Pachino,
chocolate of Modica, truffles and a wide range of hams and cheeses'.
do you remember of the Modica's specialties of once, as a young?
I remember my favorite were the "arancine" and the "scacce", and
the "focacce" of Ragusa. And the ice-cream of the "Latteria", a
renowned bar of the center of Modica'.
recent, Mr. Selvaggio, Sicilian wines are living a moment of prosperity.
What do you think about them, even considering that you live in
a land, California, which is a best producer of wines?
review "Wine Spectator" has awarded us, this year, the best "American
Cellar", among the biggest in the world, with some 230.ooo bottles.
So let's not forget Sicilian wines like the "Regaleali del Conte
Tasca" by Francesca Planeta, the "Cerasuolo di Vittoria" by COS,
the "Passito di Pantelleria" by Salvatore Murana, the "Duca Enrico"
by Corvo, the "Faro Palari" by Salvatore Geraci, the "Ceuso" by
Antonio Melia, and others that are leaders in Sicilian and Italian
Selvaggio, the best quality of your exclusive restaurants is pretty
expensive. Is that really basic for who wants to eat well?
quality costs. At all levels. It's important to distinguish of course,
when you're entering a fast food, a pizza shop, a restaurant, etc.
There are many levels, especially of restaurants. Like the "Enoteca
Pinchiorri" in Firenze, or "Aimo" and "Nadia" in Milano, we have
costs to bear and to necessarily amortize. To get fresh fish from
the Mediterranean three times a week, or seasonal truffles or other
exclusive products of the Italian tradition is highly expensive
and requires a specialized organization. To have the best olive
oil or meat . we cannot look upon the price'. 'Here's why people
stop here. Our efficient organization, the skilled ability of the
chef and the staff. Everything in the right place at the right moment.
sounds like easy. But this came the basic rule of your business
and life. But, then, what's the matter with most of Italian restaurants,
there in Italy?
c'è un segreto è nell'amare quello che si fa, farlo bene è la nostra
missione. Creare delle mode e non seguirle.
c'è che non va, allora, nella nostra cucina, nei ristoranti italiani?
think that even the best restaurants in Italy make mistakes. I think
in Italy they excessively mean poetry rather than business, as we
do here. Numbers are wrong there. I think is about mentality and
practicalness'. 'Here, you make numbers or die. 92% of the new restaurants
in L.A shut down in one year. This is the reason we aim at the big
numbers: 400 through 600 clients a day, between lunch and dinner.
In Italy most restaurants are family businesses. That way quality,
of course, will never reach our level. .
by Silvio Sammito