I recently wrote that I was going to New York and Boston with Dario Cecchini and Giovanni Manetti, two and a half Tuscans (I'm the half, Tosco-Americana) with an agenda—butchering lessons, whole-cow dinners paired with Fontodi wines. We stayed at New York's Michelangelo Hotel, owned by Tuscan Elisabetta Fabri, a friend of Giovanni's, a client of Dario's. We all met in the lobby. Dario's suitcase, with knives, was lost. His wife, Kim, attempted to track it down. Giovanni had a reservation at my favorite restaurant in New York, The Four Seasons—we were joined by Lisa Niccolini (Tuscan owner Julian's wife) and Kim. Julian was his naughty self, as usual, and after a series of appetizers and lots of wine, he served Dario an entire veal shank.
Dario spoke of the animals he worked with, which should lead good lives, eat healthy food, and have a merciful death.
We met Gaetano Arnone (Dario's ex-apprentice, now working at Eataly in New York) and David Levi (future apprentice) in the kitchen of Del Posto, where we would cook for the event on Monday evening, and headed across the street to the Chelsea market, looking for ingredients that we might be missing. Butcher Adam Tiberio of Dickson's Farmstand Meats had a tattoo, "MACELLAIO" on his arm. He was thrilled to see Dario, clearly an inspiration, since there was a Panzanese steak (Dario invented the cut) in his meat case.
Then back to Del Posto's kitchen, where Dario, assisted by Gaetano and David, sectioned half of the hugest cow—almost 1,600 pounds, dividing by musculature, carving away bones, each piece destined for a special recipe. It took all day. Chefs filed through the kitchen to take pictures and be photographed with Dario and the meat. I had dinner with a friend at The Breslin (loved the suet crust on the beef pie). Kim, Dario, and the boys went to Brooklyn, to Mile End, since Dario was lusting for pastrami.
The next morning we worked the cuts, pounding slabs of beef with a hand-tenderizer to make Dario's Chianti sushi, kneading ground beef and pork into Cosimino jumbo meat balls, chopping vegetables and herbs, braising meat.
We met Giovanni Manetti for a quick lunch at da Silvano (Tuscan, from Florence) but spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen.
We headed uptown to David's parents' home (his father is a New Yorker of Venetian-Milanese origin, with a home in Tuscany) to meet friends and sample some of the dishes we'd prepared so far. The amazing photographer Wowe bonded with Dario and took lots of pictures. Jim Lahey and Sara Jenkins were among the Tuscanophile guests.
The final morning in the kitchen we were assisted by Mario, tenderizing sushi, making more Cosimo jumbo meatballs, finishing long braises that needed to rest. We were on schedule and had time for a quick lunch with Giovanni, Mario, and Joe at Del Posto. We had Mario's favorite dish as a kid, spaghetti with invisible sauce—garlic, chili pepper, extra virgin olive oil.
David and Gaetano transported the meat, a hindquarter, to the Italian Culinary Academy for Dario's lesson on Panzano-style butchering. The auditorium and aisles were packed with students, butchers, and fans. Dario began with a little history of his family's traditions, handed down from father to son for 250 years. I translated. He spoke of the animals he worked with, which should lead good lives, eat healthy food, and have a merciful death. He talked about respect for the entire animal, utilizing each piece to its maximum, wasting nothing. And he said that his guiding principal was that one only possesses what one can give. Dario explained as he worked, boning the shank, which would be stuffed with the marrow from its bone, tied, braised with shallots and extra virgin, a Christmas specialty of his shop. He prepared a cut for a simple roast, carved his special steak, the Panzanese, while Gaetano and David tenderized meat for sushi.
Everyone got a taste, paired with a sip of Fontodi's Chianti Classico, the perfect accompaniment for beef. Standing ovation and cheers concluded the class, and we raced back to Del Posto.
The Panzano room whole-cow Fontodi wine dinner was sold out. Mario had a table of dignitary chefs—Gabrielle Hamilton, David Chang, April Bloomfield, Marc Vetri, Lidia Bastianich, and food-lovers Emanuele Della Valle (think Todds) and uber-vegetarian Gwyneth Paltrow. She ate salad. We left after dessert and Vin Santo for the drive to Boston, with snow. We arrived at 5:30.
Giovanni had a Fontodi wine tasting at my friend Lydia Shire's restaurant Scampo at noon. We had a tour of her kitchen; Lydia had a Red Wattle pig half from Lazy S Farms on the counter, and Dario asked if she wanted him to take it apart. Of course the answer was an enthusiastic yes. After a tasty lunch, Gaetano and David brought the pig into the dining room and Dario sculpted it into Tuscan cuts. A pile of meat for sausage, trotters to be braised, shoulder to make into Chianti "tuna," and a beautiful "porchetta"-style roast. Inspiring!
And then off to our final events outside Boston at Panzano Market and Trattoria Enoteca Tomasso. Jim Talvey and Jane Carbone supplied the beef for the butchering demo from their Double J Farm. Dario sniffed the meat and was impressed, knew the animal had lived well. Lots of Boston restaurateurs and Italian food lovers turned out, including Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire, and Tony Maws, Italian wine importer Jeannie Rogers of Adonna Imports, and, most importantly, Corby Kummer. I always appreciate a Corby sighting, wherever. While Dario told his story and sectioned the meat he recounted the story of Tuscan meat loaf, first created for a Medici banquet celebrating the baptism of Cosimo and Eleonora de' Medici. In their honor Dario has shaped it into a ball, recalling the Medici coat of arms, and calls it Cosimino (little Cosimo). Everyone got to sample his Chianti sushi. Dinner at Tomasso followed, prepared by chef Justin Melnick, paired with Fontodi's Chianti Classico, Riserva, Flaccianello (super-Tuscan), and Vin Santo.
Dario, Kim, Gaetano, and David were leaving in the afternoon. We had time to meet a friend from Panzano and have lunch. How could we resist a restaurant called The Butcher Shop, and a chance to visit with Barbara Lynch? We toured the kitchen, met chef Robert Grant, I was pleased to find Arianna Occhipinti's wine SP 68, and we had a wonderful, all-meat farewell meal. I checked into the Liberty Hotel, loved my room with a view, fantastic shower, met Lydia's husband, Uriel Pineda, at Scampo's bar and went to Lydia's newest restaurant, towne stove and spirits. The restaurant was fun, with its big open kitchen and the most beautiful old copper stove. I ate local—oysters, cod, Maine shrimp, and the most delicious dessert I've ever had, maple cotton candy.
I devoted my final day in Boston to two Atlantic contributors I was dying to meet. I began with a visit to Flour Bakery, where I met Joanne Chang and told her how much I admired her approach to baking. We sampled sticky buns, sugared brioche, and pop tarts. I, who generally don't like sweets, was ready to eat everything. I had an appointment with Tony Maws (we met at the Panzano demo) and, after chatting for a while, checking out menu and wine list, wished I could stay for dinner. Next time. I walked down the street to Toscanini's to meet Gus Rancatore and his sister Mimi. We talked Italy, ice cream, and gelato, and then it was time to go back to my hotel, check out, head for the airport.
Dario, Giovanni, and I are now a team, two and a half Tuscans. We're already thinking about our next meat happenings. Where? When?