Passion is the key to great food. I don’t care whether you spent eight months in a diploma program or two years at the C.I.A., the best food comes from chefs who possess passion. I’ve worked alongside some highly trained individuals who will never do anything more than rehash the same repertoire throughout their entire careers. Why? Because they lack passion. A great chef is not built in school or the restaurant kitchen, he is made through decades of experiences.
This brings me to Chef Egidio Donagrandi of Paprika Restaurant in the East Village of New York City.
Egidio is a man that is driven by a passion for the cuisine of his birthplace, the Valtellina. The Valtellina is a valley in Northern Italy where the food is more influenced by Austria than Italia. It’s a mountainous region with a hearty cuisine to match. Egidio recalls his mother reducing large pots of pork stock to create aspic and the various dishes made from cabbage, potatoes, cheese and sage. In the Valtellina, you’d find schnitzel instead of veal with a side a spaetzle (egg noodle dumplings) in gravy. These are serious comfort foods, and they have forever left their mark on Egidio, who doesn’t try to reinvent, but instead aspires to deliver the food and the atmosphere of his native land, in a style that everyone can appreciate.
And it works, the food at Paprika has that same warming comfort and richness of flavor, yet without the weight and heft you’d expect.
One of Egidio’s favorite ingredients is buckwheat, an ancient grain that was made recently popular by the low-gluten craze in America. In Egidio’s case, he grew up with this grain, and it’s used throughout his cooking. From the menu, the Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi, a plate of buckwheat Tagiatelle, with Savoy cabbage, Casera cheese, potatoes and garlic, is a sumptuous dish that showcases the flavor and gritty mouth-feel of buckwheat pasta against the smooth, earthy Savoy cabbage and nutty sweetness of Casera cheese.
It doesn’t stop there. While the menu at Paprika is a menagerie of Austo-Italian foods that will tempt your palate with simple yet enticing flavors, the setting in Paprika will lull your soul into a state of comfort. Egidio’s passion goes beyond the food on your table, it’s in everything they do at Paprika. As much as the food can be called fine dining, the atmosphere has been designed to set your mind at ease. This is the East Village after all, and Paprika is something of a hidden gem, where the locals can reap the benefits and feel right at home in an alpine cabin setting with warm lighting and dark woods. A well-thought-out selection of wines from the north to the south of Italy adds the finishing touches, and with a modest corkage fee of only $14, you can’t go wrong.
So the next time you’re in New York and looking for a place for dinner, skip the midtown or uptown scene. Try this neighborhood favorite in the East Village, and try a sample of Egidio’s passion in everything you experience there. You won’t be disappointed.
110 St. Mark's Place