PERSON OF THE MONTH – CHEF SESSA
Our person of the month is Chef Angelo Sessa, one of New York's most respected professionals. With over 30 years of experience, Angelo is the Executive Chef of Palma, a unique hidden gem in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Chef Sessa, you are one of the most respected Italian chefs in New York. What's the most significant challenge you've faced during your long American career?
I have faced more than one challenge. There was one event in particular that changed my path. I lost my job the day before 9/11. I found myself without a job for eight months. During that time, I found the courage to finally open my own place here in town after many years of sacrifice behind the stove. It was the first Neapolitan pizza in Harlem. They called me crazy, but I can say that it lasted more than a decade with great pride. It was a great accomplishment. Without the first challenge, there wouldn't have been this successful experience.
What dish do you love to prepare the most for your customers at the well-known Palma restaurant?
It's not easy to give you an answer. At Palma's, we enjoy creating and "reviewing" dishes that bring back memories of the authentic flavors of your home. For example, the Neapolitan Sunday ragout with "manfredine" and ricotta cheese. In the kitchen is teamwork. There is no soloist in a kitchen: an orchestra of people must guarantee continuity.
What is the Italian dish that Americans can't appreciate?
In my opinion, Americans, in general, have had a pretty solid culinary evolution over the last thirty years. In particular, I am referring to the East and West Coasts of the country. I don't think there's a dish they don't know or haven't tasted, such as "trippa", "bottarga," beef "morbidelle." They eat everything now and are always looking for new ingredients to try.
How has the way Americans relate to Italian cuisine changed over the years?
There has been an excellent circulation of Italian products. My customers' palates are becoming more and more sophisticated. They now know that there is a difference, for example, between Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine.
What is the one ingredient you can't do without in your kitchen?
First of all, flour is fundamental in the Italian kitchen. But then there's oil, cheese, tomatoes. In short, it's tough to choose just one ingredient.
What do you love to eat every time you come back to Italy?
Everything! I am Neapolitan, and I love my culinary roots. When I go to Naples, I taste everything: from my sister's eggplant parmigiana to the pepper taralli from the producer who lives below our house and has been there for a century. But then there's pizza which, together with coffee, is the one thing you always find everywhere in my neighborhood. Honestly, what I miss most about the historic center of Naples is the beautiful aroma in the morning when you walk down the street.
- Donatella Mulvoni