They say in America that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Turns out that’s pretty universal.
“Her love for food started with a love for her husband, because the restaurant owner was her husband,” says Caterina Martini, translating for seventh-generation Italian chef Roberta Vivetta Cintelli. “She started cooking at the restaurant and then she got married.”
Cintelli was 20 years old when she began working in the kitchen of Ristorante il Falcone, a restaurant in Poggio a Caiano that opened in 1862. Fifty years later she’s still cooking, and she jumped at the opportunity to travel to the United States to get a taste of Charlottesville.
Through the Charlottesville Sister Cities program, the team at Tavola has partnered with il Falcone for a summer culinary exchange, during which each restaurant’s chef will spend a week visiting and working with the other. In July, Tavola chef Caleb Warr will travel to Poggio a Caiano, where he’ll work alongside Cintelli, who’s been cooking longer than he’s been alive. Cintelli is visiting this month for about 10 days, during which she’ll see local sites, eat all over town and, of course, cook at Tavola.
Last weekend, Cintelli and Martini joined Tavola owners Michael and Tami Keaveny for brunch at Hamiltons’ at First & Main. After Martini quietly translated the extensive menu for her, Cintelli ordered an omelet, and a basket of pastries and biscuits arrived for the group to share. Both Italians at the table marveled at the perfect balance of the biscuits (not to be confused with cookies, as Martini’s classic British English training would have them believe) and the side of locally made strawberry jam.
Cintelli’s hosts have a long list of local food for her and Martini to try during their stay, and as of last Sunday morning, one of their favorites was the classic Cajun-creole fare they had at the recently opened Southern Crescent in Belmont.
“The real American food, like gumbo or soul food, it’s really appreciated, because it’s something new and very genuine at the same time,” Martini translates for Cintelli, adding that they acknowledge the difference between classic, original American cuisine and American junk food.
And, as much as she’s enjoying the opportunity to visit area eateries, Cintelli asked an unsurprising question shortly after landing in Charlottesville last week: “When do I get to cook?”
Cintelli will spend most of the rest of her stay working in the kitchen at Tavola, with the week culminating in a Poggio a Caiano-inspired food-and-wine street festival in front of the restaurant on Saturday, June 11.
And while Warr and the rest of the Tavola staff are soaking in as much knowledge from the Italian culinary matriarch as possible, 70-year-old Cintelli remains humble.
“I would like to teach my traditions, but I also want to learn as much as possible,” she says. “The world right now is very different from when I started as a teen, and there are always plenty of possibilities to learn.”
Count your chickens
Welp, the cat’s outta the bag. Central Virginia is on the map as the place to track down fried chicken in what some may consider the most unlikely of places: gas stations. Preston Avenue Shell, Brownsville Shell in Crozet, The Chicken Coop in a Lovingston Exxon—we all know and love these inconspicuous spots for their crispy, flawless fried chicken and sides such as potato wedges and coleslaw.
Last month, Saveur writer Hawk Krall posted a short piece for the gourmet food and travel magazine entitled “One of America’s best fried chickens comes from a Virginia gas station.” The piece highlights Mac’s Country Store, located in an innocuous Exxon station in Roseland, about 40 miles south of Charlottesville.
“It’s the kind of place where, if they’re working on a fresh batch of chicken, they’ll direct you away from the ones sitting in the warming tray [to] make sure you get a taste of their best work,” Krall writes. “And their chicken is out of this world—as crisp and juicy as you could hope for.”
We’re glad you enjoyed it, Krall. Be sure to come back next time you’re writing about beer or donuts.
At the table with Timbercreek…Starting on Saturday, June 11, Timbercreek Market will host monthly farm-to-table dinners through September, with courses created by executive chef Allie Redshaw and a cheese course by Flora Artisanal Cheese. Tickets are $65 per person, plus $15 for wine pairings. Cheers to beer…Wild Wolf Brewing Company recently announced it received an honorable mention for its imperial stout at the United States Beer Tasting Championship. Open for business…Months ago we told you that a new Korean restaurant was coming to West Main, and, as of last week, Doma is officially up and running. Stay tuned for more details about the owners and menu.