Red hair and a contagious smile, Chef Ceffo (Francesco) Spilabotte is the man behind the talk of the town, Fratelli La Bufala, the new Italian pizza franchise that redefined the term “urban chic” on the Upper West Side! A proud native of Naples (Italy, not Florida!) Ceffo worked in some of the most iconic restaurants in Naples and abroad, including the famed Virgilio Sporting Club in Posillipo, the Gallo Nero, Rotweiller, Michele e Ma`, Anema e Cozze and others. Since 2007, Ceffo has collaborated with Emme Sei Group (owner of the Fratelli La Bufala brand), working on the openings and launches of their locations in Miami, Madrid, Istanbul, Dubai and now in New York City. We met during a small pause, of course in front of a delicious Neapolitan Pizza.
What five ingredients in your kitchen could you never be without?
Authentic Neapolitan Chefs cannot work without exquisite Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a good pasta, a choice of garlic and onion and, in my case, a variety of tomato distinctive of my area called “Pendolo del Vesuvio,” a true gem
Have you thought of putting together a cook book?
Not yet! I did contribute 4 recipes for a Swedish cookbook.
Are all your ingredients imported from Italy?
Not all of them, but the most crucial for the performance of the kitchen: olive oil, tomato, exquisite buffalo mozzarella, flour, coffee, pasta and buffalo dairy products.
Have you had any formal culinary training?
I was passionate about cooking since a child and have grown professionally over time. My Maestro was an iconic one, Chef Vettosi of Naples.
What is the most extravangant pizza you have made?
Ha! …A pie shaped like a racket, with the “handle” filled with ricotta cheese and prosciutto!
Do you have a signature dish ?
Sometimes the simples dishes are the most difficult: as they say, less is more. My signature dish is “Spaghetto alla Ceffo”: garlic, olive oil and red hot pepper, or eggplant with cherry tomatoes, pecorino cheese and basil.
What makes your pizza different from everyone else’s?
The mixture dough is quite the secret, along with excellent, high quality ingredients.
What is the essential key to making your specific pizza dough?
The flour and… passion!
What is your favorite olive oil and why?
I especially like first-press extra virgin olive oil. Italy produces a great variety of oils…. I of course like the balanced acidity and texture of the one from Campania, or a strong and flavorful Apulian one, and even a good, light Tuscan Olive Oil. It depends also on the dish and what kind of temperature and style you have to use!
What are some of your cooking triumphs and disasters?
So many memories… A memorable one was cooking for Madonna, the rock star. It was 20 years ago in Los Angeles in a place called L.A. Trattoria.
How do you think American chefs differ from Italian chefs?
I am not sure they really know the Mediterranean cuisine, its “culture” and techniques.
Do you recall any recipes from your family growing up that you use today?
Of course! Beloved grandma meatloaf, a special veal dish called La Genovese (with onions), the authentic, Neapolitan Style red sauce (or do you call it gravy??), Peas & Pasta and so many more….
What is your favorite italian movie and why?
In addition to the classics (we have a great tradition) a recent movie I appreciated is “Benvenuti al Sud” (Welcome to the South) which captures the philosophy and simple lifestyle of Southern Italy in contrast with the North.
Fratelli La Bufala, is a fresh casual resto-pizza concept, which offers recipes and products typical of the Neapolitan tradition and characterized by very high quality and organic ingredients, centered on the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and other buffalo milk dairy products. The menu includes starters, pasta, entrees, salads and a wide selection of pizza plus an original dessert menu.
Fratelli La Bufala is located at 2161 Broadway @ 76th Street, New York, NY 10024. Tel. (212) 496-5303. For more information, please visit fratellilabufala.eu.