Thanks to a childhood aversion to school meals, Alberto Varetto’s culinary career got off to an early start. After attending culinary school at age 14, he left his native Italy to work in acclaimed Washington, D.C., kitchens, including Galileo Ristorante. Two decades later, following a move to Southwest Florida to serve as executive chef at Sale e Pepe on Marco Island, Varetto opened his eponymous restaurant, Alberto’s on Fifth in 2012, bringing the cuisine of northern Italy’s Piedmont region to Naples. Varetto tells us what inspires him and lets us in on a little secret—where he goes for authentic Neapolitan pizza in our own backyard.
FIND CHEF VARETTO’S RECIPES FOR PASTA AND RISOTTO AT NAPLESILLUSTRATED.COM/ALBERTOSRECIPES
BEST IN CLASS: I discovered that I liked cooking because the food at my school was really bad. I could never eat it. I would go the whole day hungry, go home and cook for myself. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a chef.
FRESH FLAVORS: I wanted to create a very traditional northern Italian menu to show people that Italian food not only tastes really good, it’s also light and healthy. When people look at me they say, “You are too skinny, you cannot be a chef!”
|Roasted scallops with lobster sauce.|
NORTH VS. SOUTH: In northern Italy, we use more mushrooms, meat and even a little bit of cream. There is some French influence. In the south, they use more tomato, garlic and seafood. My goal was not only to open a restaurant, but to share my heritage with the people who try my food as well.
DIY: I love making fresh pasta. It reminds me a lot of being in Italy. You can make it at home, it’s very simple. You just need flour, eggs, olive oil and salt. Try it with your family.
THE REAL DEAL: This job is very intense, if you want to do it right. It’s difficult to find time to spend with my family, even if it’s just to go for pizza. My favorite is Molto Caffe & Pizzeria on Fifth Avenue South for real Neapolitan pizza. It’s really similar to what you would get in Italy.
INSPIRED RESEARCH: Going back to Italy is very inspirational. I travel and try lots of things. Then when I come back to Florida, I try to re-create those flavors. Very few chefs will share the full recipe, so I try to remember the recipe by taste.
|Alberto’s homemade taglierini with crab.|