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Silvio Suppa: Bringing Italy to Madison

Published 04/24/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 04/24/2013 12:38 PM

By Melissa Babcock
The Source

Madison has been kind to Chef Silvio Suppa. Since opening Café Allegre in 1998 with his wife, Vittoria, he says, "We've loved it here; we love the people. It's really been a great experience. It's been a lot of work, but I always tell everybody in order to be in this kind of business, you need to love what you're doing. I really cook with my heart. When I prepare a dish, I really put everything into it."

Silvio also shares his culinary prowess as the author of Cooking with Chef Silvio: Stories and Authentic Recipes from Campania, released in September 2010. He is working on another book, which he expects to be published sometime in late 2014.

"The book I wrote starts from when I was a little kid and started getting involved with the kitchen," he explains. "It talks about growing up until the day that I left Naples to come to this country. The next book is going to be about the day that I landed over here until now: Marriage, kids, all the restaurants."

The Suppas, who live in North Haven, met at and eventually ran the successful restaurant Del Monaco's on Wooster Street in New Haven. Silvio oversees three other area establishments under the umbrella of The Allegre Group: WoodWinds in Branford, Chef Silvio's in Guilford (where he produces a line of sauces that sells nationwide), and Allegre Gourmet Express in Madison, down the street from Café Allegre.

Famiglia

Monday is Silvio's only day off, so every week he and Vittoria host their three sons, daughters-in-law, and six grandchildren (four boys and two girls aged 1 to 8) at their home and cook for them.

Silvio says, "I love kids. I love my grandchildren. Last Monday they were over the house, and the mother of the youngest just told us she's expecting again, so that will make seven grandchildren."

When he can manage it, Silvio says, "I go away once in a while. I was in Italy a few times over this past four or five years when I was writing the first book and went back there to take some pictures, see all my aunts, and get recipes from them. I still have family there; they're 85, 90, 92. When they see me, they really enjoy it."

On these trips, Silvio immerses himself not only in his family, but also in Italy's unparalleled culture and beauty.

"Sometimes I take a quick drive through the Amalfi Coast to see what's going on around there, besides being beautiful."

'La Cucina Povera'

Silvio knows firsthand that simplicity yields the most delicious meals. He is the real deal, full of stories from his childhood and inspiration from his grandmother.

"My grandmother had nine kids, so this family always had 11, 12, 15 people at every meal," he says. "She always cooked a lot, and nothing was wasted.

"I grew up with peasant food, or poor people's food," he says. "In Italian we call it la cucina povera, the kitchen of the poor, which is actually my favorite type of cuisine, and my best. My strength is the more healthy and less expensive food-all natural stuff from the garden, green vegetables, sauces, and things like that."

He marvels, "Mediterranean cuisine ended up to be the least expensive, the most healthy, the most delicious. I lived in the country as a boy, and everything comes from the farm. I used to go outside with my grandmother. Peas or fava beans, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes-whatever was out there-she'd fill her big apron and we'd bring them inside. Back then there was no Stop & Shop or Big Y. Our shopping place was the backyard, the garden."

From working with award-winning chefs from Naples, Milan, and Paris, Silvio picked up other cooking skills, combining his grandmother's Old World methods with a bit of French cuisine, modern cuisine, infusions, and experimenting.

The Mediterranean style of dish has taken hold the world over due to its healthy, tasty, simple, and inexpensive ingredients.

Silvio says, "They're dishes that never die. "Take steak Pizzaiola or chicken Cacciatore-you can order one in Japan; you can order one in Australia. That's all over the world, and it's a standard."

Out of the Kitchen

If he weren't a chef, Silvio says, "I'd probably love to be a Formula One car racer. It's one of my passions. I follow them all over the place and watch as much as I can."

NASCAR it isn't-Silvio says, "They have cars from all over the world: Ferraris, Renaults, all the big guys. I would love to go watch the Grand Prix in Monaco some day. I've been to the Indianapolis 500. I've been to the Grand Prix in Montreal probably 10 times. They go all over the world, and it's hard to follow them unless you're a millionaire and have nothing to do"-like run an Italian food empire.

For Cafe Allegre's 15-year anniversary, which is June 10, Silvio says, "Maybe we'll throw a little party; I'm not sure yet. We'll do some celebration. Say that champagne is flowing at Café Allegre for one month, two months, rivers of champagne!"

He laughs and then heads back to his kitchen.

To nominate someone for Person of the Week, email m.babcock@shorepublishing.com">m.babcock@shorepublishing.com.

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