1/30/2013 04:37:00 PM

Valentino's Piero Selvaggio and the "Biggest Gift of Italian Gastronomy"

When you think about Italian food in LA, do you think about Sunday gravy and meatballs, or radicchio, porcini mushrooms and buffalo mozzarella? If it's the latter, you have Piero Selvaggio to thank. When he opened Valentino in 1972, it was a modest red-sauce Italian-American joint, not the haute dining room it is today. But when he and his business partner split a couple of years after its debut, he decided to learn more about Italian cuisine and go in a new direction. Now, more than more than 40 years later, Valentino is known for its regional dishes, and Selvaggio as the consummate host and one of the hardest working men in the business. For Italian Food Week, here's what he has to say about one of the greatest culinary gifts from Italy, one that helped put his restaurant on the map.

"I came to this country and knew very little about food. Finally I opened a restaurant in 1972, an Italian-American restaurant. You know, baked clams, that sort of thing. Then I separated from my business partner, and I wanted to revisit what we could do. I wanted to find out what it would take for me to learn about Italian food, so I go to Italy and met with a major journalist who took me to a restaurant. 
He suggested we get carpaccio with truffles - it was the beginning of September - and I thought, 'How is he going to put little chocolate candies on top of meat?' I’m looking at this thing; I had never eaten raw meat in my life. But then that incredible pungent aroma hit me, and I went crazy for the flavor. I learned there about this incredible thing called white truffle. How little I knew about these things.  
People didn't know why you pay what you pay for something as aromatic as this. They didn't know what to say at the time, when we offered them as a $20 supplement. I had to explain that they weren't chocolate truffles, but a perfect little miracle that happens in the rainy season in Alba, when the soil is wet and the dogs are unleashed to sniff them out. They didn't believe me. But once they tried them, quite a few people started realizing. Truffles in the U.S. started becoming a reality.
Truffles became more and more part of what Valentino was, especially back then because they weren’t very popular. They weren't as accessible. I say they are biggest gift of Italian gastronomy. We'll say we have spectacular tomatoes, whatever you want to say. But truffles are it. They are one of the greatest delicacies."

1 comment :

  1. Totally over rated. I had one of my worst Italian meals there. My dish of gnocchi were totally overcooked and gummy. And that was the beginning. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't think so, but I can't understand what's so great about this place. They do have a great wine list, I'll give them that.