Having come of age in Naples and Milan, pasta and pomodoro are in the maestro's DNA. But I wanted to see how our world-class music director conducts himself after work, when hunger strikes.
Conducting Beethoven is just another night at the office for Riccardo Muti, the celebrated music director of the CSO. But when the Maestro seeks a taste of his native Italy, he often retreats to a back table at Coco Pazzo in River North.
"I come here because I'm sure of what I eat and it gives satisfaction to my desire, my taste," he said.
Part of that means simplicity.
"I don't like when a waiter needs two minutes to explain what is in the plate, because I grew up Napoli and Puglia - on the Adriatic coast - where the food was extremely simple," he said.
The Maestro literally leads me through one of his favorite three-course dinners, beginning with a dish he grew up with: buffalo mozzarella, an intense tomato terrine and fresh arugula.
"It's called rucola in Italiano. In fact here they say 'mozzarella cheese.' This is something that is bothering me because I would like to have an answer. Mozzarella is mozzarella. That is the cheese."
Then it's on to spaghetti, cooked al dente, with fresh tomatoes.
"And the spaghetti al pomodoro, what is important is the parmiggiano, the parmesan; that is essential, and then you turn,"
"Not too much," I added.
"Depends on how big is your mouth," he said.
Finally, our secondi: whole branzino that's stuffed with herbs and lemons; roasted in a wood-burning oven, then filleted tableside, drizzled with a touch of olive oil.
"Do you always have a little olive oil on your fish?" I asked.
"In everything I have olive oil. I come from the land of the olive oil," Muti said.
"We say 'salute' and 'chin chin' but 'chin chin' don't say in Japan, just in Italy. Chin chin. Buonissimo, cucinato perfecto," said the Maestro.
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For more information also: http://riccardomutimusic.com