Meet Massimo Giannattasio, Executive Chef at Cibo Wine Bar, located at 200 South Pointe Drive, just across from the Continuum Condominium and at the base of Portofino Tower and South Pointe Towers. Born and raised in Salerno, Italy, Massimo’s passion for cooking came as a child helping his mother prepare traditional Italian meals. He still opts for the most simple, fresh ingredients as the Executive Chef at Cibo Wine Bar. His three favorite spices; “salt, pepper, basil, …because when the food is good, you don’t need to mess it up too much.” During his long career, Massimo has only worked in a handful of the finest restaurants. Previous to Cibo Wine Bar, he was at Ago Restaurant in the Shore Club, owned and operated by Chef Agostino Sciandri and partner, Robert De Niro. Before that, he worked at Vincenti Restaurant in Brentwood, touted as the best Italian in L.A.
Massimo’s passion, commitment and devotion to exceptional Italian Cuisine makes him an incredible influence in the Miami culinary industry and a tremendous asset to Cibo Wine Bar.
JP: You have worked in some very formal, celebrity, and even, Michelin restaurants. Cibo Wine Bar is much more casual. What were you trying to create here?
GM: I was the first chef to be hired and was here from the beginning. We wanted a place where you can even come with your flip flops and then, if you want to come later for dinner, you can just throw on some jeans and come back. Because South Beach and Miami, in general, is like that, very laid back and relaxing. But for South of Fifth, there are more uptight restaurants, so here we created something more casual, but still very nice.
JP: How did you create the menu?
GM: We wanted to have the favorite, classic Italian-American dishes for the Americans, but also, the real Italian dishes for the Italians. You have to remember, that in Miami and Miami Beach, there is a large community of Italians. And they came like 10-20 years ago. Every year there is a like 3-4,000 Italians that move to Miami. So, it is a little different, because they want to follow new trends, so you need to appeal to that kind of community, too.
JP: Having such a huge wine collection (Cibo has a 3,500 bottle cellar), how does it inform the food?
GM: All the staff are very well informed and can help you choose your wine. But in the end, it is a matter of personal taste.
JP: What dishes on the menu do you recommend?
GM: All the fresh pasta is from memories of my childhood. In Italy, we use water and flour in the south and eggs and flour in the north. It depends on the area. The pasta is the main thing, an Italian cannot live without.
The Brunch on Sunday is a very good deal. It’s not your typical buffet, breakfast brunch. We have pasta, pizza, we have charcuterie, salami. We do the omelettes, actually they are frittatas. We have a huge selections of roasted vegetables, pickles, cheeses. We try to please everybody.
JP: What are you finding trending right now?
GM: Everybody right now is looking back, but not everybody they can make what was done before, because to do some of those dishes, you need techniques. And today, most of the new chefs now, they know the plates, but they don’t really know the techniques. Because nobody now in these kitchens today teach you how to hold a knife in your hand, how to saute, how to grill… Now we have become, “here is the menu”, and you learn how to do that dish and that’s it.
In my time, it was different. In my time, before you put your hand close to a pan, you have to know how to hold it. My teachers were very demanding. I can tell you when someone has technique or not, the minute he holds his knife in his hand. It doesn’t make you a chef having a tattoo or a $1,000 Japanese knife or growing a beard. I worked a long time ago with a Japanese chef who told me, it’s not the knife, it’s the hand that moves it. IIf you don’t know how to filet, you can’t do it. I see this new trend where they want to create the chef before being a cook. You can’t be a chef before being a cook. And before you are a cook, you need to be an apprentice cook. Now they want to make it a show, but it’s not really a show. In that moment when you are on the line cooking, you need to be like the pilot of an aircraft. Because there are decisions sometimes that you make in 2 or 3 seconds that can make the night. It’s a moment.
Training is not only about working in a Michelin star restaurant. I had friends who used to go to France to work in these Michelin star restaurants. They would work for free for six months and sit in the back, peeling potatoes, and never even see the inside of the kitchen. What I like to say to the young cooks, – and I say cooks, not chefs, “first learn the techniques of different chefs, and after take the best of different chefs and make your own”.
In Miami, because there are people from so many cultures here all working together, you need to speak a second language. Being a chef here is like coaching a soccer team. You need to be able to take the best of everyone to win the game.
JP: Who were/are your culinary heros?
MG: I have many heros. Everyone has taught me something. Even the dishwasher or the manager of the hotel. Each one has taught me something at a different point in my career.
JP: What do you eat at home?
GM: The most simple things that I can make and the things that don’t make too much of a mess.
JP: Do you have a kitchen story of something gone wrong that you had to recover from?
GM: I remember once when I was starting, I was like 15 years old. My first year. I was working with this chef who was my teacher. He was more like a sergeant in the army. He had said to me to “save the chicken” and I heard “throw it away”. Oh my God. It was like 2 weeks, I had to clean everything, no day off, no breaks, all the terrible jobs in the kitchen that no one wanted to do…
JP: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
MG: To be honest with you, I like history. Maybe an archeologist.