For our December chef feature we are highlighting Chef Roberto Leoci, a nationally recognized cook whose work has taken him all over the world, yet who chooses to reside in Savannah and bring his food to us. His restaurant, Leoci’s Trattoria, opened in late 2009 and has developed a large and devoted following of customers committed to supporting Leoci’s mission of bringing fine Italian cuisine made with fresh, often local, ingredients to Savannah. “It’s worth it to support local. Maybe if we tell people more about all the things we’re using they’ll know how to appreciate it,” Chef Leoci said. The restaurant obtains their ingredients from such local farms as Hunter Cattle Company, Southern Swiss Dairy, Flat Creek Lodge, Savannah River Farms, Sweet Grass Dairy, Adam’s Farm, and the Bethesda Academy gardens.
Lately, Chef Leoci has been busy with starting Leoci’s Fine Foods – his collection of canned products – and a catering branch of the restaurant, as well as working as a food stylist for Food & Wine at a recent tribute dinner for one of the most decorated chefs in the world, Alain Ducasse. In 2012 he will be doing another tribute dinner for renowned chef, Charlie Trotter.
Leoci has also been fishing for Lionfish in Deep Water Cay, Bahamas, and discovering ways to cook the poisonous, invasive fish safely and inventively. “They taste like a buttery sole,” he said. “They’re delicious. Deep Water Cay is trying to promote themselves as the place if you want to try the Lionfish … This fish is infesting our waters at Gray’s Reef, and so I want to try the same thing here … When I travel, I like to promote my city. It’s a great place to live.”
The Dish: Classic Bolognese
What’s Special About It? -Chef Leoci: “It’s so good if you cook it the right way. When people have bolognese, it’s usually done with so much tomato sauce and is more like a ragu. I really felt people needed to taste what it is authentically. Once you try the real one, you’ll never go back … Every region and Italian family has their own way of making it.”
How Is It Made? -Chef Leoci: “A real bolognese is kind of like a meatpie with not much tomato sauce. We hand roll the gnocchi and sear and cook it with either veal, beef and pork or beef, pork and lamb. Most people boil gnocchi, but we want to get the best flavor, so we sear and brown them and add them to the sauce. Gnocchi is kind of like a dumpling. The sauce is a demi reduction house secret, where we cook down a beef or veal bone and vegetables and put our fragrance [herbs] inside. We top off the dish with a touch of Southern Swiss Dairy heavy cream and a little parm.”
What Do People Say About? -Chef Leoci: “A lot of people tell me, ‘It’s so much pleasure in your mouth,’ because you have all three meats, the gnocchi, the sauce and the texture.”
606 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Ga.
Hours of Operation: Mon-Thu 11 am – 10 pm; Fri 11 am – 11 pm; Sat 12 pm – 11 pm; Sun 12 pm – 10 pm