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For the Trabocchis, Family Time Comes in the Kitchen

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Fabio Trabocchi is the James Beard Award-winning chef and the owner of Fiola, Casa Luca, and the upcoming Fiola Mare restaurants in Washington, D.C. Balancing the life of a successful chef with the life of a successful father can be difficult, but Fabio has discovered that sharing the kitchen with his son, Luca, is the way to find balance. Fabio and Luca talked with us about what lessons can be learned in the kitchen, how parents and kids can cook together and share some favorite recipes.

You’ve talked about how spending time with your own father, who was a farmer, was very influential in your own career path. What did you take away from those experiences?

Fabio: Those experiences provided me with an understanding of products, their seasons and sources. He transmitted to me a passion for food, and a focus on food as a way of life and work. 

Now, as the father you get to see the other side of it. What lessons do you hope Luca is learning by joining you in the kitchen?

Fabio: It is my intention to pass on the lessons of my own father. Valuable history, culture, traditions and ways of life are passed on to the next generation. My father’s approach to food (seeking out the best ingredients, knowing where food comes from and knowing the people that produce it, in addition to specific recipes) is fundamental to the Italian way of life. This is also precious time to spend with Luca.

Luca – What’s the best part about working in your father’s kitchen?

Luca: The best part is spending time with dad. I also get to learn new things that other kids my age probably don’t get to see.

What’s your favorite dish to make?

Luca: I like to make pasta – especially ravioli – and I’m learning about risotto. 

Fabio – Do you see a budding chef in Luca?

Fabio: It’s possible. I certainly see an interest in and appreciation for food. But ultimately he will do what he likes, and I hope he approaches whatever is his chosen career with passion and discipline.

Luca – What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with your dad in the kitchen?

Luca: You have to stay quiet and focused on the job, it’s not play time at work. Cooking at home with him is fun and very interactive.

What kind of food do you bring for lunch? Always something gourmet? Or do you still work in a PB&J now and again?

Luca: I make my own lunch. Usually a small piece of good bread like ciabatta, some provolone cheese – but not just any kind of cheese. I’m very particular. I like good prosciutto too, and of course, basil and tomatoes. I also like fish, vegetables and fruits.

The holidays are about spending time with family, so what is the best way to get kids involved in the kitchen during the holidays?

Fabio: You have to make it structured, and yet fun. The tasks that you give them must be integral to the meal preparation (not just busy work), but the job must also have very defined steps and not too many. They want to feel involved.

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One of the biggest struggles we hear from parents is that they have difficulty getting their kids to expand their tastes beyond boxed mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. As a chef and a father, what advice can you give them?

Fabio: My wife and I are lucky because our children have been exposed to all different kinds of foods from day 1 because of our profession. It all starts from the effort of the parent. Kids need to be exposed to real food, not processed food, and the parents are responsible for this. From year 1 through year 5, these are the most critical for kids’ development. This requires discipline and commitment from parents. The first response can’t be to placate kids with fast food or processed food. It’s not easy, but you cannot give up.

Involving kids in the food preparation is key, when they are old enough, of course. Even basics like picking herbs or sorting produce according to size or color, teaches the kids something about ingredients. All of their senses are activated during the “identification” process, they can feel textures and consistencies, see colors and shapes, and of course taste and smell. They start, at an even young age, to build their own library of information about all sorts of ingredients that they will come to like (or dislike, as the case may be). The ingredients may also provoke storytelling or other information sharing, depending on how old they are. 

It’s about making a commitment to teaching them from an early age, and building and establishing habits for life. There is nothing more important.  

How do you try to instill healthy eating choices in your son?

Fabio: I try to lead by example, and to make sure that our meal times are structured family times.

What are the most important things to remember when you let kids help out in the kitchen?

Fabio: If you want them involved you have to make it fun. They have to be “hooked” by the fact that they are learning something. It’s important to establish the ground rules – clearly explain what they will be doing, from start to finish, and give them instructions for each step. Set them up for success by providing them with all the tools and equipment they will need to do the job, and interact with them at every step of the way. 

What’s next for you in 2014?

Fabio: In early 2014 we are opening our new seafood restaurant in Georgetown called Fiola Mare.

 

Recipes

Luca also shared two of his favorite dishes, including the sandwich he created. These recipes are great starters to get your kids involved in the kitchen.

Luca Trabocchi’s Ultimate Sandwich

This sandwich, perfect for a school lunch, is the favorite creation of Luca Trabocchi, son of Washington, D.C. chef Fabio Trabocchi. Read more about how the father and son use the kitchen to teach life lessons and bond together.

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Ingredients

  • 1 baguette, or ciabatta, or other rustic bread roll, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces Prosciutto di Parma, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, cut across the equator in ¼” thick slices
  • 1 cup baby arugula or baby spinach, washed and dried in a salad spinner
  • 6 black olives such as Kalamata, pitted and cut in half lengthwise
  • ½ pound smoked Scamorza cheese, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Drizzle olive oil on both slices of the bread and transfer to a baking sheet. Toast for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven, turning once, until golden and crisp but still soft inside.
  3. In a small bowl, season the arugula lightly with salt, and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil just to coat.
  4. Top the bottom half of the bread with the prosciutto slices, the sliced tomato, the arugula or spinach, the black olives and then the sliced scamorza.
  5. Turn on the broiler. Broil the sandwiches for about 2 minutes, shifting the pan occasionally, until the cheese is bubbling.
  6. Top with the other half of bread.
  7. Cut the bread in half to create two sandwiches.

Yield: 2 servings

Crescia Dolce

This delicious and kid-friendly recipes is a favorite of chef Fabio Trabocchi and his son, Luca. Read more about how the father and son use the kitchen to teach life lessons and bond together.

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Ingredients

  • 3 ¼ cups Italian flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant yeast or 1 ¾ oz fresh yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ cup lard for the dough, plus 1/3 cup lard for spreading
  • 2 whole eggs
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 quart frying oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Mix in the lard.
  2. Add the eggs and milk, and stir with a wooden spoon to bring together into a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto the table, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Add more flour (sparingly) to the work surface only if it is absolutely necessary.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball; cover and let rest on the work surface for one hour to relax the gluten.
  5. Divide the dough into four even sections. Roll each section into a round approximately 8-10 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick.
  6. Spread the lard evenly over the surface of each one, and roll up (as for a jellyroll) to form a log.
  7. Coil these lengths of dough into buns resembling a snail. Let rest again, covered, for 30 minutes.
  8. Again, on a lightly floured surface, roll out these buns with a rolling pin to form 7-inch rounds.
  9. In a deep fryer or a wide heavy pot, heat the oil to 350°F. Spread 1 cup granulated sugar in a shallow bowl that is at least 7 inches in diameter, or spread it on a plate.
  10. Very carefully place a crescia in the hot oil. The oil may spurt, so be especially careful. Use the back of a wooden spoon with a long handle to keep the dough submerged in the oil and fry, turning once, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until golden. Using tongs, transfer the crescia to the prepared baking sheet. Blot off excess oil, and dip both sides of the crescia into the sugar. Repeat with the remaining crescia.
  11. Serve warm, with apple butter, Nutella, or the topping of your choice!

Yield: 4 cresce