Some of the Greatest Chefs in the World are found in Orange County, California.
Which spices are underrated? Nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
Are there any culinary trends you like right now?
Farm-to-table, fresh/high quality products even with simple recipes.
What food is your guilty pleasure?
Homemade dried meats … bresaola, salame, prosciutto crudo, mortadella, cappocolla
Is there a food you can’t bring yourself to eat? Peanut butter.
Your favorite quick meal to prepare at home? Pasta caccio pepe
Your worst kitchen nightmare?
Having any kitchen fixture failures, i.e., ventilation hoods, refrigeration, ovens, etc.
Best cooking tip for a novice?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and experiment. Be creative!
What’s your last meal on earth? Polenta merluzzo.
Give us one reason why Orange County’s food scene rocks.
The infusion of a lot of cultures allows the possibility to try many different cuisines.
What’s your favorite type of music to listen to when cooking?
Italian: Andrea Bocelli, Adriano Celentano, Zucchero
If you could cook for anyone who would it be?
I would like to cook for my nonni [grandparents] to make them proud.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a customer?
Ketchup for spaghetti.
What’s the best part about being a chef?
To be able to create new plates and give pleasure to my guests.
What’s the most challenging part of being a chef?
Finding qualified help for my kitchen and staying up-to-date with Health Department regulations which change frequently.
Chef Ugo Allesina
What is your first food memory?
I remember making gnocchi with my Nonna [grandmother] Maria on Sunday mornings after church. She made me peel the potatoes and it was a tradition to get together, talking and making the gnocchi.
Did you grow up in a cooking family?
Yes, I have three uncles who worked as chefs on cruise lines and fine hotels in Europe. My brother-in-law worked at Lido Palace, a 4-star resort hotel in Baveno on Lago Maggiore and I worked under his direction as a teenager. My father had a construction company, but later he took over the Circolo (community restaurant/coffee bar) in our village of 237 people. He would also cook meals for the locals and occasional visitors in the back of the Circolo in a tiny 6’x20’ kitchen, often cooking for as many as 80 people. It still amazes me to this day that he did that.
Who has influenced your cooking the most?
Vittorio Lavarini, not only a well-known chef in my hometown area, but also my neighbor and mentor. He took me to work with him at Hotel Eden in Mottarone, a winter ski resort above Stresa on Lago Maggiore. His direction really grew my passion for cooking.
Why did you become a chef?
Coming from an area well-known for its chefs and maître-ds, I thought it was a way to learn a profession and have the opportunity to travel the world.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a young boy, I liked history, especially Egyptian history. So I dreamed of becoming an archeologist, discovering ancient mysteries.
If I weren’t a chef, I’d be: An archeologist.
Who are your favorite chefs?
I enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s television show. In Italy, I like Cracco Vissani and also Gualtiro Marchese, the pioneer of Italian nouvelle cuisine.
Which seasonings don’t you respect? Dried herbs.
Restaurant: Prego Mediterranean | Restaurant Website