giovedì 16 gennaio 2014

A chat with Vincenzo, barman at Café Damiano in Florence

Vincenzo with some students
 by Louisa Loring

There are already many cafes in this area.  What makes this cafe different from all the others?

First of all, clients are treated as individuals, as if they were in their own home, eating their own dishes.  The food we offer is all made here, as it is at home.  We have made the decision to offer dishes that are rooted in traditional flavors of Italy.  Also, we only have 22 seats so we can give individual attention to each customer. 

Where do these recipes come from? Do they come from your family?

No, rather, to bring back the traditional flavors, we have studied various cooking from different Italian regions and towns such as Tuscany, Lucca.  In fact, we have brought back peasant dishes because they are so rich in traditional flavors.  Our menu ranges from peasant dishes to the most elaborate of Italian cuisine. 

And even though these recipes are traditional, do you like making changes to these dishes to make them more modern or do you prefer to keep the recipes as they are?

This is a wonderful question.  In practice, we are trying to bring back original dishes that our grandmothers made.  Many of those flavors have been changed and modified over the years but we aim to keep tradition alive, especially Tuscan tradition.  The best dishes are those made in the traditional way without changes.  

What is a favorite dish of yours that you make here?

My best dishes are those that come from Lucania, where I am from.  There, we make a lot of homemade pasta like Ferraioli/Frizule ca a' mellica and orecchiette with turnip greens.  

Vincenzo making a personalized cappuccino
Change and innovation are important for customers.  How does this affect your menu? Does it change every season?

Our menu is based on fresh vegetables of the season and so, yes, there are big changes.  We are trying to bring back these flavors that people have forgotten over the years to the new generation because these days, many people haven’t had the luck to have a grandmother or mother who cooks well at home.  Those typical, regional, Italian flavors are by now lost, except for those rare grandmothers who are still cooking in a traditional way today. 

How important is local food for you? Do you try and use local products and ingredients?

We pick all our ingredients with attention.  It is important that the produce and products are regional and if possible, directly from the farms and producers because it secures freshness and the best quality possible.  We specifically look to cook with seasonal vegetables.  In fact, right now, there is pasta with broccoli on the menu.  In the summer, you will find pasta with tomato and mozzarella, but you won’t find what you are eating now because we do not use frozen foods or out of season produce. 

I see here that you have many different types of wine.  Are these wines different from what you would find in another restaurant?

Yes, by creating our own menu and with collaborations, we are able to offer a selection of wines from various regions.  When we prepare a traditional dinner with dishes from a specific region such as Lucca, Puglia or Calabria, we also try to choose wines that will pair well with that type of food.  In Italy, the wine possibilities are endless but the characteristics of a Sicilian wine are different from that of the Veneto region.  If you take a wine from Calabria and pair it with a plate of pasta and tomato sauce, it will not pair well and thus, not taste right.   

My personal cappuccino
In speaking with you, it seems you take joy in offering people a good lunch and that you like being surrounded by people.  Did you decide to open this cafe for this reason?

I love to be with people.  I love everyone! I like chatting and meeting new people.  Everyday I meet new people from all over the world; it is really a cultural exchange.  All my clients are wonderful! Here is one, one who comes often. Why do you come here?

‘I come because everything is made with love here.  The menu is always changing and there are lots of choices.’

And she is not my friend, she is a customer who works next door and comes here often.  Everyone who comes here feels at home.  I involve all my customers in the process and thus, they believe in me and they come back.  This is how you create new friends and learn about other cultures.  Today, I have friends all over that I met here and we still exchange holiday greetings.  Only to say, this is something that makes us different.  I want to create a family and those who come here, Italians or foreigners, feel a part of that family.

Lastly, do you have a piece of advice for someone who wants to open a cafe?

If you are going to open a cafe, it needs to be for pleasure, for vocation, for the desire to be with others, not for the business.

Bar Caffetteria Damiano, Via del Parione 46r, Florence - a few steps from ISTITUTO EUROPEO

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