Simplicity Wins at Sessanta
Photographs by Winnie Au
Simplicity wins, always – but the execution of something super-simple needs to be precise. Just because something is minimal does not mean it should be approached without care, protocol or without honoring its purity. There are rules, after all, and though I have built a brand on breaking some such obligatory “rules” – I will admit that others are far better followed.
Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to create a painstakingly-simple 7-ingredient pasta with Chef Paul DiBari, former executive chef of Bowery Meat Company, at Sessanta. The Linguini A.O.P. recipe we’re sharing here happens to be one of the most sought-after dishes at the downtown darling Southern Italian restaurant. As a matter of fact, all of chef Paul’s dishes are ingredient-focused and simply prepared, which makes them both uber-delicious and super-accessible. The food is punctuated by the swooniest midcentury Italian design — think avant-garde, Giò Ponti-style aesthetics with the glamour of Federico Fellini. The space, located in the heart of SoHo, is moody and sexy at once. It’s the kind of spot that feels like an escape, where you can curl up in a booth with a glass of wine and be transported to a diner in the postwar heyday of Italian culture.
My kitchen experience with Chef Paul was chock-full of tips and tricks. I always find that I walk out of a professional kitchen with a bit more knowledge than I had when I entered. So now I share those little tidbits with you swooners. First, pre-slice your 12 cloves of garlic paper-thin and let them infuse your oil overnight. Second, (and perhaps this is more of a restaurant-focused tip, but I, for one, am ALWAYS stumped when it comes to portioning spaghetti or linguini, sooooooo…) pre-portion each serving of long noodles by visually separating them with some blue painter’s tape. No more guessing, and this guarantees precision for however many people you are serving. Oh, and grind your own red pepper flakes – I love, love this tip! The flavor is far better this way. I know, I know, I am a bit of a food geek. I freak out over these fun reveals from seeing a pro in action.
Upon leaving the kitchen, I sat with co-owner of Sessanta John McDonald, (whose partner is Steven Eckler) and devoured our delicious A.O.P. pasta. And in case you’re wondering, the name stands for “aglio, olio e pepperoncini”, and the translation: goodness. No really though, it means garlic, oil, hot pepper. John and I had an interesting chat about – you guessed it – food, his journey into hospitality, old NYC, creativity, carving out your own path, fear, success, parenting, and finally some Ted Talks I need to watch. I love what I do!