The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola

The James Beard Award-winning chef remembers growing up amid the seasonal bounty of central Italy.

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Photo courtesy Fabio Trabocchi

It's not common to find a young Italian lad who will skip playing soccer with his friends in order to spend time in the kitchen, but from an early age, Fabio Trabocchi couldn't deny the magnetic pull of the food made in his childhood home. “I got more and more into cooking,” says Trabocchi. “Having a father figure had a lot to do with it. He wasn’t shy to ask for help, whether it was peeling potatoes or holding a chicken while he removed its feathers. My family had one foot in rural tradition and one in modern living, and it was a blessing.”

At Fiola, Trabocchi’s trattoria in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter, his childhood in Le Marche region informs refined dishes like hay-smoked suckling pig and sea-urchin spaghetti. Casa Luca, his more rustic restaurant nearby, is even more nostalgic in its embrace of how he ate growing up—there, you'll find patrons guzzling Italian wine on tap and tackling smoked potato and apple flatbread, or lemon zest and almond ravioli.

Back in Italy, Trabocchi’s father was a sharecropper and impassioned cook who instilled the importance of ritual and seasonality in his son. “It’s organic. The DNA has been implanted," says Trabocchi. "You grow up a certain way, eating cherries in July and truffles at the end of September, because your parents did it this way and their parents did it this way first. It doesn’t matter what type of family or what size wallet you have; it’s all part of culture.”

Honest, fresh ingredients have propelled Trabocchi’s cooking since he first started working in Michelin-starred restaurants at the age of 16—first at Gualtiero Marchesi in Milan, followed by Navalge Moena in Trento, where he oversaw the kitchen staff at just 18. The polished, soulful cooking style he exhibited at Floriana, in London, led to running Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner in McLean, VA, which earned him a James Beard Award in 2006. When New York called, in the form of BR Guest’s Fiamma (the Soho restaurant was a casualty of 2009’s recession), locals were enamored with his elegant upgrade of an ubiquitous cuisine (something that would forecast the current obsession with elevated Italian comfort food).

But Trabocchi has clearly made D.C. his home. In fact, he’s thriving there, eager to open his third restaurant, Fiola Mare, this winter in Georgetown. “All the windows look out onto the Washington Harbour. There will be a 10-foot-long seafood counter and guests can pick their own fish. I want to bring the experience of seafood restaurants on the water in Italy to D.C.,” he says.

Naturally, the menu will feature dishes that harken back to Trabocchi’s youth on the Adriatic Coast. Here are the 10 dishes that recall those salad days in Le Marche.

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