Fabio Trabocchi's Last Meal: Back to Mussel-Shucking

Fabio Trabocchi, who took over the kitchen at Fiamma in September, was wholeheartedly excused for a menu that seems too fussy to be Italian when Frank Bruni gushingly renewed the restaurant's three-star status last month in The New York Times. (Those original three stars were earned by Michael White, now at the helm at L'Impero and Alto.) As we dialed Trabocchi's cell-phone number the other day, we prepared to ask him to spell the names of the fancy wines and obscure ingredients he would want to indulge in for his last meal. But as it turns out, his fantasy involves his home province on Italy's Adriatic coast, an old bike, a tiny fishing boat, and nothing French.

So, if you could have anything in the world, what would your last meal be? Probably my last meal would be in the same place I started being a chef. It's a little restaurant in Le Marche, where I'm from. It's not well-known, just a simple summer/beach place in a town called Numana, but I think that's where I would have to be, just because it's like going back to where I started. They did certain things very well, like grilled fish, because it's all very fresh. Very casual. It was only open in the summer.

It's so different from what you're doing now. It is, but it's a good rewind of everything that has happened until now. That's the place where I started to get into cooking. Certainly, I had no idea where I would go, that I would cook in New York or Washington, D.C., or London. It's hard to think about dying, but I think, hey, it's my last meal—I could tell you something fancy, but this is what I picture.

Was it a family-run restaurant? Yes, a father, daughter, and mom is in the kitchen. They own a little boat that they are using to go fishing. Then at dinner time, it's more of a pizza place.

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How old were you when you worked there? Fourteen.

Really? Yeah, so now you see why it was a big deal. At that time, in Italy, you could work at 14, and my father bought me a 14-year-old bike—the same age as me—and I rode that to the restaurant every day. It was my first summer job, and I found out I liked it. After that, I went to culinary school.

Were you actually cooking in the restaurant? I did everything. I was like the go-to guy: "Fabio, shuck the mussels." "Fabio, we need to move the cars." "Fabio, roll the pizza dough." Whatever was required—I started with opening the umbrellas for people sitting on the beach. I would also clean up the beach, prep for lunch, bus tables, anything.

So what would the meal actually be? Would you cook? Oh, no, I enjoy the party this time. The wife would make spaghetti with mussels right off the boat, and branzino, also from the Adriatic, in salt, cooked in the wood-burning oven.

It sounds great. Yes. We'll see, in many, many years, if it comes true.


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