Q: You have an unusual accent. Where are you from? A: I was born in Sicily and moved to France at age nine. When I was 24 I lived in Venezuela for 18 months, that’s where I learned my Spanish. I guess all those influences are in my accent.
Q: How did you get into the food industry?
A: In 1967 I joined the French Navy. I wanted the position of either photographer, or tailor, or food service. There was no need for photographers and tailors, so it was food. For somebody coming from a poor family that could not afford to buy food and eat every day, it was just incredible.
I was first in my class in the high end table service course. As a reward, I was given the gift of my destination, to pick where I wanted to serve. I had always been fascinated by the stories of Robinson Crusoe, so I chose the farthest away I could get: New Caledonia. It was the whole diameter of the Earth away—22,000 km. I took my first plane ride to get there, a 32 hour flight. There, in the South Pacific, I was in charge of the table of the French Commander. I was not a baker, nor a chef, but at that point I began to teach myself everything about food, the science and preparation. That is where the adventure began.
Q: What exactly was your job in the French Navy?
A: I worked at the residence of the French Commander. I managed the service at all the cocktail parties, and dinners, so many great events. I had to learn the Russian service, the French service. It’s the greatest job in the world because the French Navy has the most money to entertain. After 40 months I left the Navy.
Q: What next?
A: I went to Paris next, my family lived near Versailles. I worked in Paris, St. Tropez, ski resorts—then the next stop was Caracas for eighteen months. Then, back to France, to the Riviera. Next stop, a medieval village where I opened a restaurant about thirty minutes above Nice, in a twelfth century village, Tourrettes sur Loup. In winter there were about 800 inhabitants, in summer 2500. My preparation for Greenport!
There were three bakeries in that village. I baked in the oven of the castle to have bread for my dinner service. My restaurant had nine tables, thirty-six seats, with stone walls, high ceilings, and a fire going in a corner where we grilled meat and fish.
I visited the restaurant about 3 years ago, and I was shocked to discover that nothing had changed. The woman who was cooking there was the woman I had sold it to 35 years ago, but now her five year old is 40 and she’s a grandmother.
Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
A: I came to America in November 1973. I spent about 3 months here, just visiting. I moved to the North Fork at the end of 1978 and I’m still here.
Q: Was the 1978 North Fork very different from today?
A: There was no “North Fork” in 1978. The area consisted of small towns with a summer community. The summer residents left after Labor Day, and didn’t come back until Easter. I tried to make ends meet in different ways.
I made sausages, specialty meats. I had a commercial kitchen licensed out of my house, making bread. I tried catering, but I could not display the food, I would just prepare it and deliver. I bought my first small coffee roaster, a 7 kilo roaster that I hooked up to the chimney. That was in June/July of 1987. Coffee roasting was a novelty at the time, I was one of the first roasters on Long Island.
Q: How did you expand the specialty foods?
A: I was making European-inspired food, cakes, coffee. I became well known for my bread and roasted chicken. I began making the biscotti, first for sale in my shop and then larger scale. My first customers were Dean and Deluca and Grace’s Market in Manhattan. I delivered the goods in a brown paper grocery bag. In 1987 this café was my specialty food store. Then I converted it to a restaurant, and moved my roaster and bakery up the street, where Noah’s is now.
I reopened the café here in 2009, and by 2011 there were lines of customers out the door. Starbucks opened across the street, but closed a few years later.
Q: Did you serve a certain cuisine in your restaurant?
A: I cooked whatever I felt like cooking and according to season. I liked cooking in the fall the best because that was when there was an abundance of the local produce. But again, there was no business out of season.
Q: Since Aldo’s is a coffee destination, where you roast your beans, tell me about roasting coffee.
A: I am a self-taught roaster. The way I roast is personal; I’m not trying to embellish. I am focused on the substance, on delivering satisfaction to the palate. That is all I know.
Q: How much coffee do you roast in a batch?
A: I roast 25-28 pounds at time normally, sometimes less. I don’t measure. It takes on average 18 to 20 minutes a batch, but we don’t use a clock. My workers have to be attentive; you know it is done when you know. I don’t want a clock to tell them its done.
Q: Do you serve the coffee straight from the roaster?
A: Beans are best a day or two after they’ve been roasted. Coffee is a living product that should be consumed fresh, but not immediately after roasting because it needs to consolidate its flavor.
Q: Aldo, what is the next adventure?
A: Honestly, I don’t know if it will happen, but I would love to source my ingredients. Almonds from Sicily, hazelnuts from organic farmers in Oregon, coffee beans from Colombia. The world is smaller now than when I embarked on my first adventure to Noumea. [Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia.]
Continue the adventure, yes…and produce the highest quality, always with the palate in mind.