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It's a fact: Athena Calderone is a curator of all things gorgeous. Her breathtaking home decor, delicious recipes, and eye for style inspired her to create EyeSwoon, a hub for home and food inspiration. Now, It Girl Calderone will be taking us to New York's need-to-know spots and introducing us to the coolest people around.
The best way to describe the overwhelmingly excited feeling I get when I step foot inside a professional kitchen, is that I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. To say “I swoon” would be an understatement. I take it all in — the organized and proficient accuracy and placement of everything isn’t lost on me — and I am overly determined to be the best student I can be, partially wanting to prove I know what I’m doing and partially wanting to learn and absorb as much as I can. Last week, I could not have asked for a better teacher when I was invited into the kitchen at Rucola in Brooklyn to cook with Executive Chef Joe Pasqualetto.
I first met Joe when I asked him to sit on a panel about Mediterranean food that I was hosting. As we chatted about food, I knew right away that Joe and I seemed to share a very similar palette — approaching and dressing food in similar ways with lemon, olive oil, heat, herbs, and texture — it’s all you need!
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My family and I have always been fans of Rucola. It’s the perfect Brooklyn restaurant for consistently fresh, bright, and seasonal food with Northern Italian flavors. It’s a place you want to frequent regularly because you can always count on amazing food, whether it’s a whole fish or a perfect plate of pasta, in a cozy neighborhood environment. Joe and I both come from an Italian-American background and we chatted about our tradition and the ritual of the not-to-be-missed Sunday night family dinners — always with red sauce! Joe reminisced about how his whole life, Sunday was family day, “My cousins, aunts, and uncles would show up at my grandparents house around 1 in the afternoon and we would eat a meal that would last until 5 or 6 at night. Maybe you don’t realize it back then, but it gives you a really strong foundation to grow.”
The sharing of Joe’s family stories immediately set the tone for a super fun and relaxed setting for us to create in! Joe’s character is incredibly warm, kind-hearted, patient, gracious, and relaxed, which put me at ease. It’s clear that he loves food, loves what he does and cares about his staff learning in the kitchen, instead of being intimidated. You can feel his almost child-like passion for what he does — a true dreamer!
He went on to tell me about that the night before our session, he had dreamt about the crudo we were creating, “I often dream about food the night before a big event, off-site, or holiday. I think it’s mostly anxiety. I’ll go over the execution in my head so many times.” This led us to an amazing conversation about the creation of recipes often coming to him as he rides his bike from his home in Fort Greene to Rucola in Boerum Hill. Together we dove right in to creating a winter crudo using the abundance of cold-weather citrus because Joe believes, “Winter time food in New York can get really heavy. I think it’s nice to go out and eat something light even though it’s cold out.”
Breaking down a whole fish was an absolute first for me, yet another Eye-Swoon moment of learning steeped in gratitude and humility! Joe was the perfect, patient teacher throughout as we shared cooking stories and adventures about all things food-related. I just love what I do and meeting other people willing to share their exact love of food — it’s incredibly inspiring. I hope this inspires you too!