Lots of cookbooks get written on the fly by chefs who have grown star wings seemingly overnight. Nino Pernetti's opus has been 20 years in the making; that's how long his northern Italian recipes and European charm have been romancing diners at the great Caffé Abbracci (318 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables). The book, co-authored with Ferdie Pacheco and Luisita Sevilla Pacheco, is called Nino Pernetti's Caffé Abbracci Cookbook: His Life Story and Travels Around the World (University Press of Florida, $40).
1. What's the secret to your two-decade success with Abbracci?
It's like having a permanent three-year-old child. You cannot lose sight of that; you have to stay on top all the time.
2. Was it smooth-sailing all the way? There has been no shortage of competition over the years.
My philosophy is that I have my own race. I run ahead and I don't look who is behind me; I look all the time ahead. And I keep running and I keep running. I still have the same enthusiasm I had 20 years ago — maybe more. I love what I do. Every time I step into the car to go to work is like my first day. I can't wait to reach my job.
3. How many chefs have you gone through?
We've only had one: Chef Mauro Bazzini. He's been with me since early '89.
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4. Stories in the book are interwoven with more than 100 of your recipes. Describe one of your favorites.
We do tenderloin of lamb. First we marinate it in olive oil, rosemary, and garlic; then we sauté it a little bit and flame it with grappa. We make a sauce on the side based on sweet Marsala, red wine, and beef stock. We add a little French grain mustard, and that's it. Very quick — five minutes and you have a delicious dish. All the recipes are simple to make at home — no out-of-the-world spices or anything.
5. Your ideal last meal?
Well I'm Italian, so I'd have a nice plate of fresh pasta with seafood. I'd use a lot of clam juice for flavor, and instead of white wine I'd use Prosecco ... and tomato juice, of course, and tomatoes and basil. Fresh, good, good pasta, with the seafood, and the sauce nicely reduced.... Delicious.