THE WORLD OF PASTA is a result of collaboration between myself and Aaron, who is one of the owners of a beautiful neighborhood restaurant Capricho Café. It is located in the Oud West of Amsterdam and it could be your destination dinner spot after a walk through Vondelpark.
Truth to be told, this is far from being the first time of Aaron and I working together. Our duo is a proof that chefs & creatives make wonderful collaborators. Having drawn Aaron's character in the past for his pop up promotions, this time it was a moment for a bigger project. We created a cookbook which is also a coloring book. Some of the recipes require more time and preparation than others but the overall theme was to keep it light, fresh, and fun. All of the illustrations in the book were also turned into prints and will be on the walls of Capricho Café from June 22 until July 13.
Once we were done creating a book and making posters, we sat down to chat. Quite frankly, I felt it was long overdue since we have worked together before and some of Small English work had been inspired by the deliciousness of Aaron's dishes.
This is a conversation about food, family, and friends. Aaron's girlfriend Anna pops in every once in a while providing essential fact checks.
When did you know you were going to be a chef?
Probably like mid teens. I always cooked. I think I started cooking when I was like 6 or 7 years old.
I think you told me that once.
Yeah. Mom’s chicken. (laughs) Had to figure out how to make a juicy chicken. (laughs) One night I pulled a chicken out of the fridge, started cooking it, my dad came into to the kitchen being like what is wrong with you? and I jut said I cannot eat mom’s dry chicken anymore. Her food is lovely, but ...
It was the dry chicken that triggered you to take the step into this direction?
Definitely. Scarred me. It was not until you know Anna and I started dating when I decided to bring chicken back into my life. Because whenever friends would be like let’s make the roast chicken and I was really like neah, I’m ok.
So you are traumatized by roasted chickens?
No, I was traumatized by dried chicken but I have since remedied that.
Anna: Yes, I have slowly introduced it back in. It took about a year of us dating before I could fully introduce roasted chicken.
I really love roasted chicken. That’s one of a few things I know how to make.
Aaron leaves to get squared pizza out of the oven for all of us.
This looks so good. (It is my second slice, I had another one before we started talking). Cheers everyone.
So, yes it is chicken. Chicken did it. Made me become a chef. But it was also my dad. When we would have Christmas eve dinner, we would make the Sicilian fresh pasta and seafood. My dad was always like let’s make lasagna, let’s make ravioli. I was always making pasta with my dad as a kid. Loved it.
Is your family Sicilian?
Yes, my mom’s side is.
What’s your favorite type of pasta?
Oh…. (looks at me like I have asked an impossible question).
Anna: He made beautiful tagliatelle the other day.
Yes, I did.
Anna: And a beautiful lasagna.
Aaron: Yeah. Favorite, honestly. Spaghetti. That’s because my favorites are spaghetti al bottarga, spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti all’amatriciana . Spaghetti is just beautiful pasta (laughs).
We proceed to discuss Easter lunch in detail only to circle back to Aaron talking about his dad :)
My dad always cooked. I think he also worked at a little diner in college.
Anna: He is a good cook.
Aaron: I think my mom is more of a baker. We have a big extended family. My dad is one of seven. Over the holidays we get together and everyone is always cooking. Food is always around.
In my life, food was always around but I was never the one cooking it.
I learnt how to cook, eventually throughout my life. To be a wholesome human being, you know, you need to know how to make some dishes. But then there are chefs. I have quite a few chef friends. My mom is a really good cook but I don't think we share the same gift. But as I said, over the past few years I have gotten much better and also now with the quarantine, I cook almost all of my meals.
That has also kind of changed the landscape of restaurants. I mean, everyone has been stuck inside for 2 months and I notice it when talking to people who work at restaurants. Delivery has gone down. Everyone is cooking a lot more. You also see people on social media making bread because it seems they have all the time in the world on their hands.
Yes, the sourdough moment is real.
If anything, I hope this situation makes people appreciate cooking at home.
I definitely have loads of appreciation for your cooking. Your pasta dishes have been with me in beautiful moments but also during some harder times. It has kind of saved my soul in a way.
Don’t worry, now my pizza is here to save you. (laughs) We are still munching on the pizza Aaron made for us.
Well. You can laugh but the Pizza Pasta Doughnuts sweater which was one of the most popular items on Small english shop, it was essentially inspired by your pasta and also Kim’s doughnuts*.
Aw. I didn’t know that. I like that. I like when food’s inspiration for people.
*Kim was an owner of Harewood Bakery. It is no longer open but it was sure the best place where to get doughnuts in Amsterdam.
We can certainly not do without it.
Unless you are really into eating just for sustenance not pleasure. I personally think you should always eat for pleasure. I would never understand eating for sustenance.
I have to admit, I do eat for sustenance quite a bit.
I don't understand it.
I try to balance it out. I do not always find the time but I completely understand this could be something we do not entirely agree upon. Therefore. Moving on :) I have a very important question. We need to talk about pickles & pickling. Please tell us about it. I know you really enjoy it and also there is plenty of jars around the restaurant.
My grandma was into pickling. She was a farmer's daughter. Well, we pickled everything Beets, pickles... you name it.
This is the closest I have ever felt to Easter Europe. That’s what my grandma does.
Everything is pickled. Jelly tomatoes. Yum. It is so so so good.
Well, you collect everything you grow and at the end of the season you pickle it. You store it. You can it. You do not waste.
Yes, you do not waste.
I think it is a valuable lesson. When we were kids it was like weirdly frowned upon. If it was fruit out of a jar, it was like, yeah sweet. People were into canned peaches, canned pears. Not so much pickled goods. But I think pickling is on the raise. People have more appreciation for it.
Anna: I always have appreciation for it.
Aaron. Me too, I love them.
Anna: We always have like 2 or 3 jars in the fridge. Otherwise I start to panic that the levels are too low.
Pickling and avoiding food waste goes hand in hand. Food is really not for wasting. It is also what sustainability is to me. One of the main goals we had in mind at Capricho Café was to be as sustainable as we could possibly be. Single use plastic straws and stir sticks are not used in the restaurant. But not just that. Sustainability is deeply tied to not creating food waste. Since the beginning we have always strived to find ways to use the whole product to create as little to no waste possible. As we grow and evolve we will always be evaluating how we can be better for the environment and hold ourselves accountable for our impact on our community.
What’s your favorite part about having a restaurant?
Well, my favorite thing is to be able to work on whatever I want to work on. Living in Italy, you have a salary and that’s it. Nobody clocks your hours. If you want to come in and do stuff, come in and do stuff. I had one summer where I was doing pastry at this restaurant. It was like four hundred covers a night, but I got my routine down that I only needed an hour and a half for prep. Everyone else would come in at twelve in the afternoon. I would sit at the beach until later and then come in and get everything done what needs to be done in an hour and a half. It took a while to come up with this routine and figure it out but in a long run, it paid off in more beach hours (laughs).
Efficiency. Very similar to my work.
Yeah. If I want to come in and work on new recipes. If I want to mess around because I had new ideas, I can do it. Get my stuff done and enjoy it. That’s what I enjoy the most.
Tell me about your culinary school experience in Florence.
It was great. It was a two year program. I always had a knack for molecular stuff.
What is the molecular stuff?
Just doing like airs and foams or a gel. Take all the pigmentation out of some liquid and make it clear. I would always just do it. It got to the point that I was working at the university together with one of my professors while I was still in school and also doing pastry for a hotel.
You were working at the hotel while doing culinary school?
And teaching at the university at the same time. Yeah, I was going to classes, working at the hotel and teaching at the university.
Teaching in English in Italy !?!
No. (laughs) I was with the professor, Andrea. He would give the lectures and I would just show the students what to do. But Andrea was my favorite. My absolute favorite.
This was the professor from uni?
Yes, he had seven jobs.
That sounds like plenty of jobs.
He was a machine. And in a way he made me a machine too (laughs). He was from Liguria. In the North of Italy.
Yes, when I drew the map for the WORLD OF PASTA which is one of the illustrations in the book ...
Yes, that’s were the trofie is from. They are notoriously the cheapest. Andrea would get these catering jobs and there would be a charge of 50 cents per bread. Instead of buying it, he would make me to wake up at 4 in the morning and we would make the bread together. He always worked hard and figured out his own way to be innovative. He also always told me to keep your hands in multiple honey buckets. When you get bored, you always have something to turn to. You always have a project you are working on.
I can definitely agree with that. When there is just one thing to do, you might also kind of lose the sight of the world around you.
I did most of Andrea’s work (laughs). Even now when I go back, he is always like Heeeyyyyy, What are you doing today? You got plans this afternoon? I always have to tell him I am not working (laughs).
You still talk?
Yes, I was just talking to him last week. He’s funny. Great guy.
You were born and raised in the U.S., Oregon. Your mom’s side has Sicilian background. How did you decide that you will attend a culinary school in Florence? Can you walk us through this path?
It was quite accidental to be honest. Going to Italy was not necessarily planned. It was just how it worked out. And then it turned out I was good at it, I really liked it and so I stayed. I wanted to go to the culinary school right after high school, but my parent’s persuaded me to go to college first and then if I still wanted to do culinary school then I'd do it after. I studied history and philosophy for a while but then pursued my true passion. I applied to the culinary school pretty much on a whim.
I had no idea that’s how moving to Italy happened. On a whim.
Well, even the name Capricho. We came up with that on a whim.
Tell us more. Where did the name come from?
Jose* and I were just standing outside of the KVK*, we stood there thinking of what the name should be. I was like we are kind of doing this on a whim.
Jose from the back: We needed the name in 2 minutes.*
We planned to do a pop up and instead we bought a restaurant. Coming up with the name was not the thing we had time for. There were so many other things we needed to solve that the name was just one minor detail. In Italian on a whim translates into sfizio, I did not want that and since Jose comes from Spain, we decided that Capricho* was good.
*Jose is also the owner of Capricho Café
*KVK - abbreviation for the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (Kamer Van Koophandel).
*Capricho translates in whim from Spanish.
In my head, this was somehow structural.
I am glad to learn that beautiful ideas are born in not necessarily the longest time and preparation.
It is all about execution anyways.
True. So as our collaboration actually happened on a whim. I am very happy that we are still friends after it.
(Aaron just laughs).
Because at one point, I was like yeah…
IS THIS ACTUALLY GOING TO GET DONE?
There was one moment when I thought you know, if I send this one more message of reminder of a deadline to you… is this going to influence as hanging out as friends later on?
Well, we have worked together and you know work Laura.
Let’s say, you are really a lot less chaotic than other people. (laughs)
The book was born so quickly. We did not really sit down and plan it.
Very whimsical. I think it is a nice collaboration. I like the book. It can be given as a gift, it is a nice activity for families. The kids can color in the book while the parents cook. Or your guests have something fun to do while you prepare a meal.
Me too. I like the book and I like the fact we are still friends after creating it. I have drawn for you before when I first created your raccoon character, but this was a bigger amount of work. Did you come up with the recipes specifically for the book? Or are these more like recipes which have been with you for a long time?
A couple of them are like staples. The bucatini with sardines, that one I make it quite often.
Anna: Yes, he does.
I love sardines & bucatini. (Aaron goes into the dreamy mode) I love all those recipes. Honestly.
I like them, too. I also think they are friendly to those who are not very experienced in the kitchen. Sometimes I would pick up a cook book at a shop and get so intimidated by all of the descriptions that I would shut the book, put it back where I found it and move on with my life and go back to my seven well worked out recipes which I know how to make and continue rotating them. When I saw your recipes, I don’t know, maybe it is about the way you wrote them, I did not feel instantly intimidated. I would most certainly not start with the lobster in my kitchen to be completely fair, but I would feel confident to make most of them.
They are the dishes I enjoy making at home.
I really liked the tip you give in the book about putting an ice cube in a blender when making the pesto.
Well, I am really strongly suggesting to use a mortar and pestle (laughs) but if you are going to use a blender, throw in an ice cube, it will prevent the pesto from turning brown.
Duly noted. We have very different skillsets :) That is exactly the reason why I wanted to collaborate. When you asked, if I wanted to exhibit my work at the restaurant, I really felt I wanted to create something together with you. That is also the reason why I was so happy you agreed to my "color the posters" challenge. In the book the recipes are yours, the drawings are mine. Posters of the expo, the lines are mine but the choice of color is yours.
Had not done this before. (laughs)
Do you remember how we figured out that the raccoon was your spirit animal?
I don’t really remember. Was it because I was up all the time? Well, it is certainly not because I eat trash. (laughs)
That would be the last of reasons. You cook and eat delicious food. I very vividly remember the remarks about my situation. I think you were house sitting my house for like a technician appointment while I was at work and you said that you would make me lunch when I get back. I got back and there was no lunch. You told me that you are a chef not a miracle creator.
Yeah, I could not make a meal from coffee and a stick of celery that you had in your fridge. Usually, I can do a pretty good job at scavenging through someone’s kitchen to pull a meal together but you really were a specifically challenging case. Glad that since has changed. (laughs)
I remember I drew the raccoon for some pop up promo about two years ago. That was the first time I actually drew your character. Cute but will fight is certainly a good description of your personality.
Yeah raccoons are quite feisty. I follow like 3 accounts on Instagram.
Our conversation continuous to go on about some silliness, but this is were I leave you to check out the book which is by far my most beloved collab with Aaron and I am kind of suspecting it is not the last. Important side note is that the book is printed on 100% recycled paper and as with everything on the shop, each purchase provides 2000 liters of clean drinking water to areas in the world where it is scarce.
on social media