Caci North Fork Executive Chef Marco Pellegrini, photo by Randee Daddona
Q: Marco, your accent reveals you’re from Italy—how did you get to the North Fork?
Marco: From when I was a child, I had the American Dream—I wanted to come to the USA—but I didn’t like any of the opportunities until I met the Cacioppo family.
I worked in Italy at one of the most exclusive places--The Castello di Reschio—it’s on the border line of Tuscany, Umbria. Like a hotel except it offers multimillion dollar villas.
I met the Cacioppos there. They have the same dream, to open an Italian restaurant; I wanted the U.S, they wanted the North Fork. Mostly what they like is my mentality of the food—from scratch. Everything is homemade. Everything you make is better than when you buy it.
Daniele: We have been in search of the right partner to open up something on the North Fork since 1995 when we bought our first home in Southold. We never thought that we would find him years later in Italy. It was a magical connection, Marco’s authentic and simple style was exactly what we were in search of and the moment Marco described his philosophy of ‘One Actor’, we asked Marco to take a look at the North Fork and the wheels started turning.
Caci North Fork at night, photo by Randee Daddona
Marco: So went through a deal. I imported the whole family, the cat too.
Daniele: It was…a very intense immigration process, researched and sponsored by Caci North Fork. We hired one of the best immigration law firms and Marco qualified for an O-1 visa, visas that are only granted to individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, art, education, business or athletics requiring many letters of recommendation and recognition from peer groups and professionals.
Q: So why the North Fork?
Daniele: We have had the best of both worlds with a place in the city and a home in Southold since 1995. We always wanted to bring the NYC food experience and our love of entertaining to the North Fork.
Marco: Up island I would have a harder time doing this typology of food—fresh is much easier here.
Caci fresh ravioli, photo by David Korchin
Q: You talk about your typology of food, how the Cacioppo family likes your mentality of food. What do you mean by that?
Marco: The quality of the ingredient is important, and the theory of the dish. I like simple food. Every dish has a main actor. All the rest have to work to put the actor on evidence. Too much, you get confusion.
Some restaurants have recipes with 7, 8 , 9 10 ingredients—when you do that you have too much confusion, people do that when they don’t know what to do. If you have spectacular tuna, cook it perfectly, and use two or three ingredients to elevate the tuna.
Another thing here we don’t over fry. For example if you’re cooking something in a pan and you’re frying for a long time on oil it will make you a day later not feel good. If you over fry any fat—vegetable or animal—it will make you sick the day after.
Caci Shiitake Mushroom Ravioli with Sauteed Shrimp & Grape Tomato, photo by David Korchin
Q: Sounds simple and elegant: high quality ingredients, a focus on cooking technique and seasoning to elevate the ‘main actor’ in the dish. You mentioned needing a garden and farms nearby, said you can’t do this properly up island. Why?
Marco: Everything is fresh.
We have almost no freezer space, though you need a freezer for gelato and things. It means it takes a couple days of prep. It’s hard to figure out that. You have to have very good control of what you’re ordering.
We have a delivery every week from Italy, we source locally as much as possible. I think the fish here is incredible, the meat is very high quality, the vegetables are amazing—some things, the mozzarella, the lemons, the oranges, the prosciutto, these we import. When you see Sicilian lemon on the menu, that is not fake.
Caci Scallops with Moscato Grapes & Arugula Pesto, photo by David Korchin
Daniele: We love the ability of sourcing as many local ingredients as possible and utilizing the wonderful bounties from the North Fork region while combining them with authentic Italian ingredients. We chose to design the restaurant with minimal freezer space.
We believe that anything is possible, especially with overnight deliveries. We import fresh ingredients on a regular basis. We have fresh porcini mushrooms, radicchio, fresh buffalo mozzarella & ricotta, blood oranges, Sorrento lemons, and black and white truffles imported from Italy. (One day we hope to expand to other locations while keeping Caci North Fork as our main kitchen.)
Marco: When it’s not possible to have an ingredient, we take the item off the menu. We are one of the small quantity of restaurants that changes our menu regularly—every three months. Seasonally.
Caci Acquerello Risotto with Shrimp, Clams, and Zucchini, photo by Randee Daddona
Our menu is pretty big—we have 39 or 40 dishes total, from appetizers to dessert. So it is very complex to manage everything and keep the quality and the freshness.
Q: You mentioned a focus on cooking technique; do you use any particularly unusual ones?
Marco: Yes. We have in the kitchen a real wood barbeque. It’s typical in Umbria/Tuscany to have the wood barbeque. We don’t use charcoal, we have the flame in the kitchen.
Caci Wood Grill, photo by David Korchin
It’s the real flavor produced from the wood and the amber. We use simple oak. Eventually we want a nice space to store and dry wood, and have a wood oven. Someday when we have the storage we’ll use other woods like apple in our cooking, but oak is wonderful.
Cooking on Caci wood grill, photo by Pat Martinez
Q: You moved your family to the North Fork from Italy to open a restaurant; for the reasons you described clearly this place is the right one for the restaurant. But do you like living here?
Marco: Yes. It reminds me of Italy when I was a child—In a good way—it’s community, friendly, respect for the small store. The concept of life. Manhattan is the most economic, shark place you want. But when they come here they are different.
And it is so beautiful here, I have a water view where I live—it’s just a creek, but it’s so beautiful. Also, the food culture is similar—it’s family style.
Q: You’re a classically trained Italian chef—does the North Fork itself influence your food?
Marco: What I try to do here, is using my technique, what I learned in Italy, with the local ingredients, to make something new. We like to make something new, using our background. Local source, the Italian style.
Our menu is a mix of traditional Italian dish—maybe 50%--and try to invent North Fork dishes with the Italian technique.
Cooking the risotto pictured plated above; photo by Randee Daddona
Q: Wine is important to fine dining; do you have a particular approach to your wine list?
Marco: We have only from the North Fork and Italy. The wine list is really an expression of what I like, what I think is good wine. We try to carry as many North Fork wineries as possible. We have Wine Spectator awards for our list.
Daniele: There are so many wonderful wines in both regions, which is the focus of our brand. Our goal is to provide a truly North Fork and Italian experience, beginning with the food and complimenting it with the wine. We update the wine list twice a year. Chef Marco personally tastes each and every wine, including every vintage change. We are devoted to ensuring that everything we provide our guests has our stamp of approval.
Marco: And our wine focus is not just on the list; we do a spring winemaker dinner series every year, featuring different local wineries each week.
Caci Tiramisu with Hazelnut Praline, photo by Brian Nordstrom
Q: Do you have a favorite dish?
Marco: From the current menu, I really like the agnolotti, it’s made with slow cooked beef, cooked in red wine, we grind it, combine it with other things, and we stuff the ravioli and make the sauce from the cooking. It’s a big process, five hours cooking the meat, but it’s so good.