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Italian chef shows Culinary Arts student how it's done

By Aaron Anderson
On April 24, 2008

Rarely does one meet an individual with more passion for his career than Chef Benedetto D'Epiro of Rome. Chef Benny, as he introduces himself, recently visited MATC for the second time in two years because, "I love this town, I love the people and, especially, here I've found a second family."While here, he worked alongside the students of the Culinary Arts program, giving cooking demonstrations, and he even created a special menu that was served at the Downtown Milwaukee Campus' little known restaurant, Cuisine, during his stay. For Chef Benny cooking is more than just a job - it's an art, one that he not only practices, but also truly enjoys.

From a young age, cooking had always been dear to Chef Benny's heart. After spending 12 years as a professional Rugby player, Chef Benny decided that he would pursue his true passion, cooking - as Benny put it, breaking most of his bones at least once was enough.

If asked why he chose a career in the culinary arts, Chef Benny tells a story about when, at the age of five, he saw an old movie about a chef who saves the world. During the holidays, when the other children were out playing, Benny would sit listening to the older members of his family talk about how during WWII food had been scarce and how many of Rome's simple and hardy dishes were born during this time.

It is these simple fresh dishes that are the heart and soul of Chef Benny's philosophy: a few fresh ingredients prepared slowly with skill and a real love for the art of cooking. While attending cooking school, Benny was surprised that they were teaching him French cooking while ignoring Italy's native dishes. Because of this, after graduation, Chef Benny decided that he would cook Italian dishes in the Roman way. And so, for Chef Benny salt and extra virgin olive oil are the most important ingredients. However, he feels that salt is like a side dish and that food should be tasted before being salted. "The first taste, the first bite, is my bite."

In 1996, not long after his graduation, Chef Benny was contacted by the owner of a small restaurant in Rome; the restaurant had been closed for many years and the owner wanted to reopen under Chef Benny's leadership. The kitchen had room for only one chef, and so Benny would be the chef, but also be responsible for food preparation, dish washing and clean up. For Chef Benny the experience of reopening the restaurant was "both beautiful and horrible."

In December 1996, with the help of his parents, Chef Benny purchased Ristorante Barberini di Roma, the restaurant where he had been working. Over the

next several years Chef Benny changed the menu from a large and touristy one to a small, truly Roman menu, "because in Rome, any dish has a history."

When asked if there was anything he would like to add, Chef Benny said that he had never seen a cooking school like the one offered at MATC. When he saw the students who want to learn to cook, and to learn his cooking, he saw, in them, himself as a young man. "If I can do anything for (students like that), I'd do anything for myself," because, as Chef Benny went on to say, "you can be the best ever, but you'll never be the winner alone.

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