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Interview with Gina DePalma, Executive Pastry Chef at Babbo Ristorante (Part Three)

25 Nov

If you haven’t been keeping up with this three-part interview, be sure to check out Part One and Part Two as well! And don’t forget about the Dolce Italiano contest–it starts tomorrow!

11) What’s the process (in general) for coming up with a new recipe and how do you go about planning the dolce menu at Babbo?

Well, again, this is something I talk about in detail in the book. I usually start with the season, and the ingredients that are available at the market. Then I think about texture, temperature, or maybe even some random craving I have. But it always starts with one key ingredient. My creative process to come up with a new menu item usually takes a week or two, thinking, experimenting, tweaking.

12) What’s the biggest myth surrounding your industry?

That you will become a celebrity chef and get a TV show. Seriously. I get resumes all the time with that as a career goal.

13) You have Italian origins and have been to Italy many times… any tips for travelers about some must-taste regional specialties or special bakeries or restaurants in Italy that you particularly like?

I don’t just have origins – I am 100% Italian! My mother spent part of her childhood in Italy, in fact. I didn’t get my chance to go to Italy until I was an adult and had some money stored up, but once the plane touched down, I felt a powerful connection to this place. I grew up in a household where Italian was spoken all around me, and we lived as much of an Italian lifestyle as we could. Sometimes this was confusing. It was like I was one kind of person inside my house and another kind of person outside. But I think everyone can find a new part of themselves in Italy. It is the kind of place that brings that out. As for tips, I can only say that Italy is not an amusement part, where you jump from one attraction to another. It is complex, vibrant, layered place. Take some time. See only one or two places, but see them in depth. That is when the visitor reaps the most rewards.

14) Do you wear a tall white hat? 😉

Never. Ever.

15) Mario Batali, who wrote the forward to your book, is an incredibly successful chef and multiple restaurant owner who has become a household name to many of us who are passionate about Italian cooking. If we were to peek into the Babbo Kitchen, would we ever come across him actually cooking there? What is the most important thing he has taught you about Italian cooking, or being a chef in general?

Well, Mario is a busy guy. In the beginning, before there were so many other restaurants in our family, he was indeed here, every day. Whenever he opens a new restaurant, he is there for months and months, developing the menu, training his staff, and making sure every detail is worked out. The secret is in staff of managing chefs, myself included. We know what he expects of us, and we all know the kind of food we want to make every day. He trusts us, and that is a huge badge of honor that we all want to live up to. As for Babbo, I would say that it is the restaurant that he has his eye on the most. It is the flagship, and the jewel in the crown, and it is very important to him, and to all of us, that we safeguard and maintain everything that makes this restaurant special. If he is in New York, he stops in at Babbo every day, and usually spends a few nights in the kitchen with us.

16) Last, but not least, what is your advice to aspiring chefs and home cooks?

You don’t have to be a professional chef to be involved with food. In fact, what we need is fewer obsessed culinary students and a more informed, demanding consumer. If you live in an area where you are lucky enough to get great products, produce from local growers and local indigenous specialties, then use them, always, and teach your children about food. Kids need to know that a peach grows on a tree and potato grows in the ground, and everything in between. Support your local farmers! If you don’t live where there are farmer’s markets, then demand them. This is a country that responds to demand. Don’t settle for bad food.

…And there you have it, folks! Spoken from a true Italian pasticciera.

Don’t forget to visit Ms. Adventures in Italy tomorrow for the Dolce Italiano Contest kick-off!

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One Response to “Interview with Gina DePalma, Executive Pastry Chef at Babbo Ristorante (Part Three)”

  1. sognatrice November 28, 2007 at 11:59 am #

    I love the answer to the last question, and I couldn’t agree more…especially with the last line.

    Great interview 🙂

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