I had been looking forward to the Bottarga Spaghetti all week, once I'd found out Catia was breaking out the last of this year's "gold brick from the sea." This signature dish of Catia's prompted me to ask her a few questions about her background:
Taller de Terreno (TDT): Where were you born, and were you raised in this same city?
Catia Asirelli de Melandri: I was born in Ravenna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, and raised in the same city. I moved from Ravenna when I was 18.
TDT: Who or what meal is your earliest memory of influential cooking?
Catia: My grandmother Adele with her love for food. She made Emilia Romagna traditional cuisine as Lasagne with truffle (her masterpiece!) or Passatelli in fish broth (you can eat that delicious homemade pasta only in Romagna). Actually, I'm not a traditional Italian chef, but I learned from her that to make good food I need fresh ingredients, time, a good vision of the life and love. Thank you, Nonna!
TDT: Did you always want to be a professional chef?
Catia: No, I never wanted to be! (laughing)
TDT: How many restaurants have you owned, and where?
Catia: I owned 2 restaurants with my husband: Miraflores in Ravenna in 1982, it was the first restaurant in the city serving tapas. It was inspired by our trips to Spain and Morocco.
Kon Tiki Beach Club in Marina di Ravenna, [est.] in 1994, was an innovative restaurant at the beach serving dishes from the world cuisine and Emilia Romagna traditional food. It was the first restaurant serving sushi in that area. We made a food revolution there! (laughs again)
I used to take inspiration from our trips [taken] in the winters when the Beach Club was closed. Every summer we had new dishes, everything fresh and homemade, the menu' wasn't written on paper but it was sung by the beautiful young girls at the table because the menu changed so fast -- some days from lunch to dinner, depending on the fresh ingredients we found each day.
In 1992 I spent almost 2 years in Santa Monica, California, having fun cooking and managing a few restaurants in town. The funniest experience was in an Italian Restaurant (I don't remember the name), I made ONLY side dishes (contorni in italian) and everybody called me 'the contorni woman'.
I prepared 25 different side dishes using only fresh vegetables, I was in the middle of a round table making them with a waiter serving them directly from the table.
TDT: What was your favorite dish on the menu?
Catia: Spaghetti alla Bottarga, Carbonara Fish Spaghetti (my personal version of Carbonara with fish instead of pancetta), and a delicious Fish Curry.
TDT: How long have you lived in Baja Sur?
Catia: I came here the first time in 1992, I was working in Santa Monica (CA) and my husband come to visit me from Italy. We decided to spend a vacation of one month in the Baja Peninsula, then we began to come every year for a few months. We moved here as residents in 2005.
TDT: Where in the world would you like to go to sample local fare you've never tried?
Catia: I'd like to go to Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam to taste the food and to learn more. We scheduled this trip for the end of next year.
TDT: What do you like best about Mexican cuisine, and how have you adapted your Italian recipes to reflect your new culture?
Catia: The sauces, the maíz tortillas, fish tacos and the fantastic seafood dishes. The Mole is a masterpiece, it's an ancient and ancestral recipe of the Oaxaca region cuisine, my favorite place to eat in Mexico.
When I come back after a long trip outside of the Mexico I like to eat Sopa Azteca because it has all the flavors of Mexico!
TDT: How + where did you become friends with Chef Alberto Collarte (of Buena Pesca?
Catia: I met Alberto 5 or 6 years ago in my house. I went to a dinner with my girlfriends and when I came back at 11 pm I found Alberto, his friend Mauricio from Chile, and Cristian, a young Italian chef working in Cabo San Lucas. Mauricio wanted to start a wine business here, and Cristian knew that an Italian man in Todos Santos made wine -- he got Paolo's phone number from a common friend in Ensenada.
That afternoon Cristian called Paolo asking advice about how to make a wine business in Baja. Paolo asked him where he was, he said, "Right now I'm in La Paz with a friend who wants to start a wine business and another chilean friend, a chef and we'll go back to Cabo around 5 pm.
So Paolo invited them to stop to our house on their way back to Cabo giving him the directions to come through the desert.
You can imagine their surprise and happiness to arrive at our house from a road they didn't know, it was autumn, the desert so green, and they arrived for the sunset!
They fell in love with Las Playitas and we became good friends. After 2 years, during a Sunday lunch here, they bought a piece of land next to us: Paolo called a lady who was selling it and they decided the price and bought the land by phone!
That night I met them they were enjoying Fior diVino [Catia + Paolo's own wine] and they hadn't eaten yet so I made for them the fantastic Bottarga Spaghetti at midnight. They were the happiest guys of the Baja California that night ~ and a new friendship was born!