Cesare Casella is a celebrated chef today thanks to his parents, Rosa and Pietro, who raised him among the pots and pans of Vipore, the small trattoria they owned outside of Lucca. Their dream was that he would become a doctor or accountant—any profession that would extract him from the kitchen. They tried to bribe him to go to law school with a new car, but by age 12 the young Casella’s chosen niche was cooking alongside his mother—it didn’t help that the Vipore kitchen doubled as the family’s home kitchen.
At just 14, Casella enrolled at the Culinary Institute Ferdinando Martini and began taking self-appointed field trips to local restaurants—a habit Casella maintains to this day. After graduating, Casella began developing his trademark herbal cuisine (thanks in part to a garden with over 40 types of aromatic herbs) and updating Vipore’s traditional Italian recipes with new ideas born of his own imagination and tastes. By 1991, Cesare had earned the family restaurant a Michelin star and a reputation that attracted clients from Henry Kissinger to Tom Cruise.
When Casella landed on American shores, he was named executive chef of Coco Pazzo in New York City, and launched its sister restaurant, Il Toscanaccio, shortly after. In March 2001, Casella opened his first solo New York restaurant, Beppe, in honor of his grandfather, Giuseppe Polidori. Beppe earned critical praise and commercial success for authentic, rule-bending Tuscan cuisine. The tireless chef then launched Republic of Beans, an Italian import company of heirloom beans, grains and spices.
In 2005, Casella opened the critically-acclaimed Italian restaurant Maremma, located in Manhattan’s historic West Village, a restaurant that combined Casella’s own deep-rooted Tuscan sensibilities with a playful sense of Americana (i.e. in 2006, New York Magazine named Maremma one of the Top 5 “Best New Restaurants” in New York City and bestowed Maremma with the honor of “Best Mac-n-Cheese”). In late 2008, Casella opened Salumeria Rosi on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. A partnership with Parmacotto enabled Casella to bring an authentic neighborhood salumeria to a bustling metropolis, meaning the public can stop in for a pound of prosciutto or a tapas-style dinner as if they were closer to Lucca than, say, Central Park.
When not developing a new restaurant concept, Casella contributes to many publications, including Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur and most recently Departures and La Cucina Italiana magazines. He’s been the subject of a series of the New York Times “The Chef” columns and made appearances on many TV shows, including “No Reservations,” “Top Chef,” “Molto Mario,” “Martha Stewart Living.” He’s also appeared on the Italian cooking show, “Brindiamo,” which chronicled the chef at work in the kitchen at Maremma, as dean of the Italian Culinary Academy, at the International Culinary Center (where he is dean of the Italian program), and at Thanksgiving Farms. Casella is an active member and supporter of City Harvest, Autism Speaks, Slow Food USA, Chef’s Collaborative, Seafood Alliance and the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani(GRI), an organization which seeks to promote Italian cuisine.
Casella is currently working on a new project entitled “True Italian – Materia Prima,” which is aimed at promoting a thorough education in Italian cuisine, ingredients and culture.