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Let’s Eat Italian
Odette Fada
A success story between Italy, Los Angeles and New York
The chef from Brescia, after almost thirty years of her career in America, tells us how the eating habits of Americans who choose an Italian restaurant have changed.
These days, local products reign: original, imported mozzarella, special flours, lentils from Castelluccio, pasta from Gragnano.
And the portions are smaller
by Olimpia Ruffo
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Odette Fada

Determined. Passionate. Competent. Creative. Odette Fada, the chef from Brescia with a long career in America, always knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. Since she was a child and made pasta dishes and risotto with the vegetables from her family’s garden and jam tarts from home-made jam.

After attending the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero del Lago d’Iseo, in Lombardy, she worked in some of the most prestigious of Italian restaurants, amongst which Castello Malvezzi, in Brescia, Casa Vissani, in Baschi, and Convivio Vissani, in Rome. And at the Vissani in Rome Mauro Vincenti is struck by her skill and takes her on for his prestigious Rex in Los Angeles. In California, Odette Fada obtains, not only the appreciation of the clientele, but also the highest praise from the Los Angeles Times and begins, among other things, to create high-profile menus for the world of entertainment and is in charge of dinners for a thousand guests, like that for the Grammy Awards.

In 1996 she begins to work as Executive Chef at the San Domenico in New York and is soon nominated as best Italian chef by Wine Spectator. She continues her experience at SD26, again in New York, and then as advisor to leading Italian producers of pasta and various New York restaurants.


You have worked in some high profile restaurants, first in Italy and then in the U.S. What differences have you seen between the American and the Italian clientele, and between the East and West coast in the United States?

I began working in the U.S. 27 years ago, so it was a different period, cooking was not so glamorous as it is today and the work was different not only because it was a different country, but because there were different attitudes and expectations. In Los Angeles they were only just beginning to get hold of quality Italian products, like real Parmesan, prosciutto ham like Parma or San Daniele and real mozzarella. The times were different: in Italy the earliest you had dinner was half-past seven, while in the U.S. it was six.

Also eating habits were different, maybe because I was in California, but I noticed more interest in vegetables, salads and light dishes. Then I moved to New York and there I found it more similar to Italian style: more sauces, more meat. These days, though, they eat lighter on the East Coast, too.


How has Italian cooking evolved over the years in America? What are the most popular dishes at the moment?

Since I arrived there has definitely been an evolution in Italian cooking and above all, a diversification, in the big cities, between Italian cooking and Italian-American cooking. This is because it’s now easier to get hold of original Italian products.

Pizza, which used to be almost exclusively sold by the slice, now can be found without difficulty made just like in the best Italian pizza houses. There is also the desire to find the most suitable flour, the best quality tomatoes and imported mozzarella.

The standard of ice-cream has made giant leaps and nowadays in the U.S. there are some excellent artisan ice-cream makers.

Bread has evolved greatly, too. In New York, twenty years ago, there was only one bakery that produced good bread (Sullivan’s Bakery), but now you can find some good bread even in the supermarkets and there are a lot of artisan bakeries.

There is a desire for traditional dishes, like Castelluccio lentils, pasta from Gragnano, the small tomatoes selected by a famous Italian chef (Gennarino Esposito), the rice from a particular area of production (Acquerello).

All this, however, moves in parallel with the search for new dishes that can inspire the imagination.


Over the years people’s tastes and eating habits have changed. What are the greatest changes you have witnessed during the course of your career?

Portion sizes (I’m referring to the habits in the big American cities) have got smaller in comparison to the past, but the dishes are more valid. When I first arrived in the United States the portions were huge, but now tiny portions, almost tapas-size, are in.

These days, there is more effort put into finding quality ingredients and a wider use of vegetables and greens. We Italians are lucky, however, because our cuisine includes a lot of varied and tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes which are fashionable nowadays.

In recent years I’ve seen an increase in the request for gluten-free dishes, but on speaking to my colleagues in Italy, I’ve realized that the situation is the same everywhere.


What impact has the theory of the importance of zero food miles had in the US?

Again I refer to the biggest American cities; nowadays a “good” restaurant must have products which are as local as possible, even though, in my opinion, these might not always be the best ones.


It’s a moment in which top chefs are stars. You have often been in the limelight and have had important acclaim from the media. What is your view on this star-system for those who cook at high levels?

I think it’s right that good chefs should be acknowledged by the public but without overdoing it. I just hope that the young people don’t want to become chefs just for the dream of media fame but rather because they really believe in what they are doing.

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