THE unique taste of Italian food with an American spin will be served to diners featuring special family recipes created by a chef with roots stretching back to some of the earliest settlers who helped create a US taste-sensation.
Executive Chef Matthew Capozzi is leading the kitchen team at The Red Plate vino and pasta restaurant which has just opened in the Best Western Plus - The Olive Hotel in Juffair.
To prove it’s a family affair, his supportive brother John Paul, better known as Bud the restaurateur, has just arrived from New York to lend a helping hand. The brothers have been producing some special ‘home comforts’ for the menu. “We took a lot of recipes that our mum taught us. When you eat at home and you have Italian blood it just never stops,” said Chef Matthew, 60.
“It’s the kind of food that we grew up with that, in so many places nowadays, has been lost. Everyone appears to be getting into this ‘speciality stuff’ but we’re making old fashioned Italian food.
“Our tomato sauce stays on the stove for six hours and we cook it every day, let it cool overnight to allow all the seasoning and herbs to marinate so it’s ready to use the next day.
“Sometimes ‘simple, stupid’ is the best, because you don’t want to get over complicated with too many spices and ingredients that you can’t taste the natural Italian tomatoes.
“Here, our clam sauce is fantastic, our Bolognese is fantastic and the meat balls (Editor’s note: They are a handful!) …and don’t forget the pizza. We use a brick oven so it’s cooked from the bottom up, making for a nice crispy bottom. If you can pick up a slice and it sticks straight up, you know it’s cooked correctly.
“This is true comfort food – only yesterday we had two guys from the Bronx, and I went over and asked them how everything was. One said ‘I’m home right now; I haven’t had garlic knots this good since I left and even when I lived in the Bronx, they were not as good in some of the places as they are here.”
About 5.5 million Italians immigrated to the US from 1820 to 2004, making them the fourth-largest ethnic group of European Americans.
Approximately 84 per cent came from the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This was the least developed part of Italy, still largely rural and agricultural, where much of the populace had been impoverished by centuries of foreign misrule, and an oppressive taxation system imposed after Italian unification in 1861.
Italian-Americans often identify foods with their regional heritage. Southern Italian staples include pasta, tomato sauce and olive oil, whereas Northern Italian staples include foods such as risotto, white sauce and polenta.
American cuisine has readily received innovations from Italy, such as espresso, which evolved into specialty coffee drinks, now ubiquitous in American life, tiramisu dessert and Nutella spread. On the other hand, for example, Pasta alla Carbonara, a dish unrecorded in Italy before World War II may be due to an American influence in relationship to the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944. It features on The Red Plate menu.
Like Chef Matthew, brother Bud, 58, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and once operated seven restaurants. His first flagship premises, the Capozzi Pizzeria in New York, still remains under his ownership and recently celebrated its 21st birthday.
Their great grandfather had a small restaurant in Sicily and the first family members they can recall settled in the US in 1893. One grandfather opened a butcher’s shop starting the family’s 150-year-long involvement in the US food sector.
The brothers say they ‘work well together’ and Bud was delighted to help share the load during the opening week, because ‘family matters’.
The Red Plate is a sister restaurant of the popular Big Texas Barbeque & Waffle House owned by restaurateur Milly and logistics businessman Radford Cox.
They were introduced to Matthew – who during his career helped start up the food giant DiGiorno, famous in the US for its pastas, sauces and pizzas – through a celebrity chef friend. They flew over to meet him and eat at Bud’s restaurant. After their first bite they knew they were on to a winner.
“It’s just what Juffair needs,” said Milly, who said she used to have to drive to Hamala to find a restaurant offering the sort of pasta she and her Italian friend craved. “That’s how we got started.”
She believes, good quality Italian-American food using traditional ingredients and delivering sizable portions, with selected beverages to match, will prove to be a winning combination at the 70-seat restaurant which has undergone extensive renovation and restructuring, including a new bright entrance.
Chef Matthew also believes the warm welcome of the front-of-house team led by restaurant manager, the dashing Quintin Minnaar, will prove just as enticing too.
“It all starts with the front of the house, if you feel welcome and everyone feels comfortable, good food is the bonus,” he said.
For more details, call 17360061.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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