Chef Spotlight: Donato Scotti
Donato Scotti, chef and owner of Donato Enoteca in Redwood City has had an illustrious career. But before the prestigious culinary school, Michelin-star restaurants, and becoming Redwood City’s mononymous celebrity chef, he was a boy in northern Italy, begging his mother not to send him back to summer camp. “She had sent me to a camp by the sea. I came home and begged her to let me get a job instead,” Donato says, his smirk hinting that he appreciates the rarity of his childhood request. And so at the age of 12, a piccolo Donato filled his mornings delivering fresh bread by bicycle. The job was perfect for a young boy with a big appetite. “I was supposed to arrive at the bakery at 6 a.m., but I would arrive at 3 a.m. so I could watch the bakers work...and eat,” he adds with a rumbling laugh. To this day, one of Donato’s favorite foods to make is bread.
While his childhood of delivering fresh bread on cobblestone streets could easily be a scene in a Benigni film, Donato’s decision to join the culinary world was slightly more pedestrian: career day in high school. “The hospitality guy was talking, and I thought, ‘Hey, I like food. I like people. That sounds great,’” he says nonchalantly. From high school, Donato attended and excelled at the culinary school Instituto Alberghiero di San Pellegrino. Mastering the art of modern Italian cuisine while embodying the cultural tradition of hospitality, Donato headed to the United States. His goal was to broaden the American scope of Italian food. He would work in New York City and Los Angeles before settling in the Bay Area. With each step, he honed and perfected his craft, blending rustic Italian cuisine with modern techniques and local ingredients.
With Donato Enoteca, Donato succeeds at offering Redwood City a taste of Italian culture beyond spaghetti and meatballs. “When I first opened (in 2009) I had someone come in and ask for fettucine alfredo. It’s not that it's bad, it’s just not what I’m trying to do here.” explains Donato. Instead, dishes like the Spaghetti al Nero - pasta that has been blackened with squid ink or the Sottocoste e Polenta, short ribs slow-braised in a Sangiovese wine and served with a creamy polenta, grace the menu. With dishes like these, there’s just no time for fettucine alfredo.
“As more and more people travel to Italy, the more I find them saying that our restaurant is the only place they can find the food they fell in love with in Italy.” Donato proudly shares. The Pizza Tonno e Cipole, is a perfect example. While tuna is a tried-and-true pizza topping in Italy, it’s practically unheard of in the states. But Donato has succeeded in gently steering us from the expected pepperoni and introducing a level of Italian authenticity in a way that feels new and intriguing.
“I like introducing new Italian dishes to people,” says Donato, “I try to change my menu often to keep it interesting, but not so much that it scares people.” Another way Donato keeps his guests engaged is through hosting special culinary events throughout the year. Whether it’s Father’s Day or the arrival of the bianca tartufo (white truffle) in November, Donato is ready to celebrate with an impeccably curated menu. The biggest event of the year, Enoteca 100, held the first Saturday of December, is not to be missed. With the wood-burning oven aflame, guests feast on decadent small plates while tasting 100 of Italy’s finest wines. These events and special menus offer the unique chance to explore Italian cuisine and culture.
“I want people to feel welcomed, to come for a wine party, a happy hour, or a family dinner,” Donato says, gesturing broadly to his restaurant. And it’s this sense of hospitality, coupled with Donato’s culinary creativity, that keeps Redwood City, nay the Bay Area, coming back for more.
Find yourself in the East Bay? Be sure to head to Oakland and check out Donato's second and equally amazing restaurant, Desco.
This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Climate Magazine.. For more about Climate Magazine: www.climaterwc.com.