Cesare Casella does not like to think morbid thoughts. The Maremma chef is a jovial guy with a thick Tuscan accent and a hearty chuckle that makes a stranger feel like an old friend. Casella, the man who brought Italian “frontier” cuisine to New York two years ago, might be picky enough to grow his own vegetables, beans, and even raise pigs and cows, but he would go the simple route for his last meal. He doesn’t even care what kind of wine you pour. But he would insist on smuggling in some cured pork for the occasion—just to keep things lively.
So, did you have a chance to think about your last meal? Well, not really, because I don’t like to think about the “last” things.
Ah, yes. Sorry about that. I’m a very simple person. All I would want is a salami sandwich, I think. But really good Italian salami—it’s different than anything you can find here. And culatello.
Sounds good. And some great wine. I think that would make me happy. I thought, what would make me happy? And all I could think of was a salami sandwich—on fresh bread.
What kind of wine would you drink? I don’t think it’s important what kind. It’s more important that you’re with your friends. I was thinking about caviar, and things I have eaten in China, but I just came back to salami again. I wanted to find something fancy, but that’s not what I would want.
Who would be with you? Just myself and my friends and family. My really special friends only.
And would you have any sweets? No. Maybe some biscotti, but the important thing is the salami.
Where is it from? It’s a salami Toscano. From a butcher in Lucca. He makes a finocchiona [salami with fennel seeds]. It’s illegal to bring it here, so it’s a very special occasion.
And would you want to eat in a particular place? I think the best place to be is at a table very high up. Maybe on top of the Empire State building, where you can see all of New York. If not there, then Rockefeller Center, on the roof deck where there is a garden. I love Italy—I go there every two months— but I think New York is the place to have a last meal.
How long have you lived in New York? Hmmmm, 13 years. But I still can’t speak English!