of the essence

In Enzo Feb­braro’s kitchen at Al­le­gro, some of the sim­plest, most im­pec­ca­bly sourced in­gre­di­ents come to­gether in the restau­rant’s great­est show­pieces.

Wynn Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drea Ben­nett

In Enzo Feb­braro’s kitchen at Al­le­gro, some of the sim­plest, most im­pec­ca­bly sourced in­gre­di­ents come to­gether in the restau­rant’s great­est show­pieces.

It Is 11 am and I am sit­ting across from Ex­ec­u­tive chef Enzo Feb­braro at one of his ta­bles in al­le­gro, where passersby on a heav­ily traf­ficked path to­ward the casino floor can see me, through a large win­dow, os­ten­ta­tiously eat­ing a creamy mound of bur­rata—a moz­zarella curd pouch burst­ing with salty mas­car­pone, cream, and ri­cotta. a big sign at the door an­nounces that the restau­rant won’t open un­til 3 pm, but it’s not stop­ping Feb­braro’s sup­pli­cants from seek­ing spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion. the flash of guilt I al­most feel is gone in the next bite. Feb­braro pushes the cork lid of a prized salt con­tainer to­ward me. It reads: “In­gre­di­enti: mare, sole, vento.” or sea, sun, wind. “Bril­liant, isn’t it?” he says with a broad smile. It’s not sur­pris­ing that this very sim­ple com­pound spelled out on the la­bel of a jar would res­onate with him. the salt is sprin­kled over a plate we are shar­ing whose in­gre­di­ents are nearly as el­e­men­tal as those on the la­bel: toma­toes, bur­rata, olive oil, basil. and by shar­ing, I mean I am eat­ing as he cheers me on like an in­dul­gent grand­mother. the qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents is cru­cial. the olive oil is tondo d.o.p., a bright green-gold oil made from the fa­mous tonda Iblea olives on the es­tate of march­esi achille Paterno’ di spedalotto in si­cily. “It’s just a lit­tle bit pep­pery at the very end,” he en­thuses. the toma­toes are the deeply pig­mented red-brown Ku­mato va­ri­ety orig­i­nally bred on spain’s costa almería and now sourced from cal­i­for­nia; he’s picked them be­cause they’re firm and sweet, with a hint of sour­ness that gives the creamy bur­rata just a bit of edge. the salt has been har­vested from salt pans since the Phoeni­cians es­tab­lished their western colonies in si­cily 2,000 years ago, and he

de­scribes where it hits on your tongue with the po­etry of a master som­me­lier. When you are eat­ing with Enzo Feb­braro, you have to make a con­certed ef­fort to dis­tin­guish his charm from the food. Is this plate re­ally so se­duc­tive or is it Enzo’s ex­u­ber­ance that at­tracts 270,000 din­ers to this 160-seat restau­rant each year, hop­ing to dive head­first into his lasagna Napoletana? Since he isn’t din­ing with all those clients, it must be the food. Feb­braro may have picked up the grand­moth­erly urg­ing from his own, whose kitchen in Naples he be­gan cook­ing in as a child. At 13, he was work­ing in a Neapoli­tan pizze­ria. “I’m a cliché!” he laughs. By 15 he was la­bor­ing in a restau­rant kitchen in the Adri­atic coastal town of Cat­tolica in Emilia-ro­magna, and at 16 he had grad­u­ated from culi­nary school and was em­bark­ing on ap­pren­tice­ships across Europe. Cook­ing took him through Paris, Nice, Mu­nich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Madrid, Mi­lan, and Lon­don. But Chef Gino An­gelini, for whom Feb­braro worked at the Grand Ho­tel des Bains in Ric­cione, south of Ri­mini on Italy’s Adri­atic coast, was the men­tor who not only taught him about fine din­ing, but also brought him to the United States. An­gelini had de­camped to the land­mark Rex il Ris­torante, cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing Los An­ge­les to grand Ital­ian din­ing. “He brought me over for a quick job to cook for the Gram­mys,” Feb­braro re­calls. “That was 20 years ago, and I never left.” His tour of the US was no less ex­ten­sive, wind­ing through Philadel­phia, New York, Las Ve­gas, and Wash­ing­ton, DC, where he was re­cruited by Steve Wynn, for whom he’d cooked at an event a decade ear­lier as chef of the famed Filom­ena Ris­torante in Ge­orge­town. When he came to the US, Feb­braro says, he was at a philo­soph­i­cal cross­roads: “You can end up on this cam­paign to col­lect Miche­lin stars, or you can do what is true to your heart. Of course there is a place for that ex­alted and com­pli­cated food, but I want peo­ple to come here and get their soul filled—and rem­i­nisce about some won­der­ful place in Italy they trav­eled to.” To that end, dishes from grand­mother and mama are on the menu, tweaked and per­fected over time: lasagna with “Sun­day Meat Ragu Sauce” and smoked moz­zarella, and seafood risotto stud­ded with shrimp, scal­lops, cala­mari, mus­sels, and clams. Feb­braro and his team be­gin mak­ing bur­rata at 4 PM each day, tem­per­ing the moz­zarella curd in a pot of hot wa­ter, melt­ing it in a hot­ter pot so it can be shaped into a ball, then stretch­ing it into a pa­per-thin sheet and cut­ting it into pre­cise lit­tle squares. In one quick mo­tion, he fills each square with a mix­ture of mas­car­pone cheese, moz­zarella, heavy cream, and salt and pep­per, then quickly wraps it in plas­tic, twist­ing it into a per­fectly round lit­tle purse. It takes his kitchen crew only 45 min­utes to make the 50 or so they’ll need for the evening. “You have to eat it within the evening,” he says firmly. The fresh burst of cream just isn’t the same on day two. On some days, the bur­rata is filled with lob­ster or crab as a menu spe­cial. “You know, I’ve trav­eled a lot and I love the in­ter­na­tional inf lu­ences,” Feb­braro says, but a culi­nary life spent all over the world has only con­firmed his love for his rich Ital­ian her­itage. “The great­est Ital­ian cui­sine is the sim­plest. You know that you can’t fake it. You choose a great olive oil, and a great tomato, and you can’t find a sur­ro­gate for good qual­ity.” If this is a cliché, I’ll have an­other.

“The great­est Ital­ian cui­sine is the sim­plest. You can’t find a sur­ro­gate for good qual­ity.” — ENZO FEB­BRARO

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Feb­braro stretches hot moz­zarella curd; moz­zarella lovers can also or­der this bur­rata as part of a larger moz­zarella plat­ter, which in­cludes stracchino, moz­zarella di bu­fala, and fried strac­ciatella; the curds are tem­pered in a hot bath.

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