There are a number of staples at Italian American eateries at Sassella (225 Johnson St., 505-954-1568, sassellasantafe.com), but they’re probably to be very distinct from what you may well be expecting. You can get a Caesar salad, but rather of the typical croutons and a dressing made with Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, lemon, and anchovy paste, anticipate your romaine lettuce to be served with white anchovy fillets, capers, focaccia crostini, and a tonnato dressing.
Hen parmesan, nonetheless, is off the menu.
“Most Italian dining establishments in the U.S. have the exact same factors, like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, rooster parmesan, Caesar salad,” claims Executive Chef Cristian Pontiggia, 41, who grew up in the Lombardy location of Italy. “It’s not actually Italian food. Caesar salad was developed in Mexico. A lot of prospects talk to me to make Caesar salad. But I alter the dressing, the presentation, every thing. I enjoy meatballs, but in Italy it’s polpette.”
He sits in his office environment at Sassella’s nearby deli (216 Mckenzie St., 505-954-1568, thedeliatsassella.com). His numerous awards line up on a cabinet. His most new: a massive blue ribbon proclaiming Pontiggia is Chef of the 12 months, an honor bestowed in March by the New Mexico chapter of the American Culinary Federation. The award entitles him to contend for the federation’s U.S.A. Chef of the Year.
“This past calendar year with COVID, our chapter seemed at the diverse requires of the condition,” claims the AFC’s Chef Leonard Bailey, who judged the levels of competition. “When I was looking at who was heading to get which award, I was hunting at what their involvement was, not only for what they ended up carrying out in their individual kitchens, but what have been they performing in the community.”
In the course of the pandemic, Pontiggia organized industry gurus, including Bailey, to prepare meals for very first responders at Christus St. Vincent Regional Health-related Heart in Santa Fe. Pontiggia, who commenced cooking in significant college, is also an advocate for more youthful generations of culinarians. “He and I have talked about producing an American Culinary Federation university student crew to contend for the ACF nationals,” Bailey suggests.
“When you get to a sure point in your occupation, you give your awareness back to someone else,” Bailey goes on. “You attempt to carry them up in their careers simply because their achievement is on our shoulders.”
Immediately after a brief stint doing work for a celebrity (no, he will not say who) in Santa Monica, California, in 2010 (“They’d occur back again dwelling whenever and wished me to prepare dinner at like four in the early morning, and things like that. I quit following two months.”), he worked for a time at Locando del Lago, an Italian cafe that shut in 2018 following 27 years. On a excursion to Taos about 10 years ago, with just 4 months still left on his visa, he dined at Taos’ Stakeout Grill & Bar.
The risotto, Pontiggia suggests, was terrible. The then-proprietor, Mauro Bettini, asked what the chef imagined of it. Pontiggia was diplomatic. “He said, ‘Do you consider you can do better?’ I was like, With risotto? Yeah. Of course I can do greater.”
Pontiggia offered him with a risotto of his personal the up coming day. Bettini was not coy in his reaction. “He claimed, ‘I sense like I’m residence in Italy. It’s like the greatest risotto I ever experienced.’ ”
Following a time at Stakeout, extra government chef positions followed: El Nido in Tesuque, Osteria D’Assisi in Santa Fe, and ultimately Sassella in 2019, which he co-owns with Lawrence and Suzanna Becerra.
“My spouse and I satisfied Cristian about eight a long time ago, give or choose. At the time, he was working at just one of the other eating places listed here in city. We went to a Chaîne [des Rôtisseurs, a food and gastronomy society] supper there and were really impressed with his cuisine. We then adopted him to El Nido. As we got to know him far better, we appreciated his push, his individuality.”
He provides, “Cristian is extraordinarily superior at what he does, and he’s also just a hell of a great man. He’s just obtained great electricity.”
His co-proprietors asked Pontiggia to identify the new cafe, which opened in the historic brick constructing on Johnson Avenue following to the Ga O’Keeffe Museum. “The name is not important to me,” he advised them. “It’s what we do inside the cafe.”
Eventually, he demurred, contacting it “Sassella,” the name of his hometown in Northern Italy. “There’s only 60 individuals living there — possibly,” says Pontiggia, his forearms enveloped by sleeves of tattoos, his bearded encounter host to a perpetual smile. “It’s just one particular street. There’s not, like, an exit. You have to go back on the exact street in advance of you can exit the city.”
But there are, he says, grapes everywhere. The area is recognised for its sassella wine, which is manufactured from Nebbiolo grapes. It is a significant aspect of the financial system for the people who reside there. Aside from a pleased memory of tasting the sassella with his father as a boy, he never ever drank wine until finally he was in his mid-20s and however does not like to drink it until it’s component of a meal. (He prefers gin.)
He acquired to take pleasure in pairing wine and food items when he was doing work at a restaurant in Italy.
“I was it’s possible 25,” he claims. “It was my 3rd career.” The head chef informed him he would in no way be a leading-tier chef unless of course he discovered to appreciate wine.
“Every evening, he’d open a distinctive bottle of wine for me to taste. Following a even though, my palette started off to change.” Sooner or later, he could picture the pairings and much more and more began to comprehend wine as an integral portion of the wonderful dining practical experience. Maybe not astonishingly then, wine plays a significant function in the Sassella dining experience.
New Mexico grew on Pontiggia. “It was one thing unusual from the starting,” he states. “It was kind of like this electricity. Anything retained telling me to stay here. The a lot more I remain in this article, the extra I love it.”
As for Sassella, Pontiggia has no designs to abandon it for a further restaurant.
“I’ve had presents to go to Las Vegas or New York, wherever I can make so a great deal dollars, but I really don’t truly treatment. I’m joyful in New Mexico. It’s a put I under no circumstances want to go away.” ◀