The Escoffier Questionnaire: Ca'Momi's Valentina Guolo-Migotto
RESTAURANT: OSTERIA CA’MOMI AND CA’MOMI ENOTECA, NAPA
“We don’t believe in plans. We believe in opportunity,” said Valentina Guolo-Migotto, sitting in the high-ceilinged, brick-walled spaciousness of downtown Napa’s newly opened Osteria Ca’Momi, which she says she originally thought would be a yoga studio. But that was a plan, and the building was an opportunity. A new opportunity to open a restaurant where the chef could continue her path of exploring Italian cuisine—chasing recipes down to their origin, sharing her familial culinary osmosis, translating cucina povera into English.
Osteria Ca’Momi is the newest iteration of the “heart-centered” food and drink ventures owned and operated by Valentina and her two business partners, Stefano Migotto and Dario De Conti, that began with winemaking and then birthed Enoteca Ca’Momi in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market. Valentina says that the partners only planned for the enoteca to be a tasting room with a few snacks and some dolce, but we know how plans go …
Before they knew it, they were upgrading to the “Ferrari of pizza ovens” and making pizza so true to the Neopolitan style that it is actually certified by two organizations, Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and the Associzione Pizzaiuoli Napolitani (APN). One of the trademarks of this style of pizza is that it isn’t cut before it is served, because as soon as it is cut it begins to get soggy. In Italy, the way a person approaches pizza is, according to Valentina, a sort of personality test.
“I go for the center first, I want the good stuff right away.”
Valentina and Stefano moved to the United States 19 years ago because, in her words, Italy felt constricting with its troubled economy. They wanted a place to unfurl, and unfurl they have. Perhaps it is my own romanticism of Italy and too many Fellini movies, but it seems to me that Valentina moved to California and has become even more Italian.
There is almost a religiosity to Chef Migotto’s ethos. There is, of course, the charismatic leader, there are the acolytes on staff (“We don’t make it easy for them,” she says. “We teach things the right way.”); and then there are the followers at the tables, the nearly constantly full tables.
It’s not just the liturgy of “obsessively authentic Italian,” performed with plates of bigoli coi rovinazzi, a pasta dish made with chicken offal that intones a spiritual zealotry. Something deeper inspires Chef Migotto (or the “anti-chef,” as the self-taught maestra calls herself ). She moves from a place of heart, something I think of as more Italian than even gnudi or ribollita. She shares yoga with her staff and is studying Café Gratitude’s values-based leadership program. She speaks about organ meats with passion. She searches for obscure varieties of radicchio. She wants you to know about “real” Italian cuisine, but not because she knows it all and she is just reciting it back to you. She is seeking something so pure that it may exist more in her search than in Veneto, where she’s from. Or perhaps not. It all depends on whether you are a believer.
EMWC: What was the first meal you made that you were proud of ?
VG-M: A perfect Carbonara spaghetti with guanciale, eggs, pecorino and black pepper.
EMWC: What was your favorite food as a kid?
EMWC: What food do you wish you loved?
VG-M: Spicy foods.
EMWC: What food do you love unreasonably much?
VG-M: Cheese and offal.
EMWC: What is the most difficult cooking technique to do well?
VG-M: The simplest. We tend to underestimate it.
EMWC: What are you exploring in your kitchen now?
VG-M: Cured, pickled tongue—lingua salmistrata.
EMWC: What non-culinary influence inspires you?
VG-M: Matthew and Terces Engelhart’s [the owners of Café Gratitude] practice of gratitude and their heart-centered business model.
EMWC: What is your idea of a very healthy meal?
VG-M: Raw, seasonal veggies from our garden and as little cheese as I can settle for.
EMWC: What is your favorite ingredient?
VG-M: The loudest, most flavorful ones, like bottarga.
EMWC: What is your favorite hangover meal?
VG-M: Menudo … a medicinal recipe of trippa.
EMWC: What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?
VG-M: Osteria Francescana in Modena, Massimo Bottura’s reinvention of Italian cuisine, and Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.
EMWC: What kitchen utensils are most indispensable to you?
VG-M: Tasting spoons.
EMWC: Whom do you most like to cook for?
VG-M: My most skeptical guests, to turn them around.
EMWC: If you could do one other job, what would it be?
VG-M: Graphic designer.
EMWC: What is your favorite midnight snack?
EMWC: What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
VG-M: Anything caramel.
EMWC: What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?
VG-M: A seafood feast from cuttlefish eggs to caviar.
EMWC: What’s your favorite place to go (and what is your favorite thing to order) for …
… a splurge meal?
Still hunting for the best sushi in the U.S.
A cappuccino and brioche in Italy.
… a late night/after work meal?
Morimoto Napa, around the corner from our Osteria.
… a cup of coffee?
Sant’Eustachio in Rome.
San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.
… kitchen equipment?
Any specialized kitchen store is retail therapy for me.
… ice cream?
Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.
Recchiuti in the Ferry Building.