Manicaretti founder Rolando Beramendi brought many Italian delicacies to the US market. With his cookbook Autentico , he will teach you how to "cook Italian the authentic way"

By Roberta Valent

Never judge a book by its cover, they say. For me, this is true for any kind of books and especially for people, I don’t judge anybody from their appearance alone. But, I make an exception with cookbooks. To me, the cover of a cookbook is the real soul of the book itself, that picture is the essence of its contents, quality and philosophy, and like they say, every picture tells a story.

That’s why I was pleasantly intrigued by the cover of Rolando Beramendi’s first cookbook, Autentico: Cooking Italian the Authentic Way, because he chose spaccatelli di pomodori: fresh tomato halves, tossed with salt, extra-virgin olive oil, capers, garlic and semolina bread. For me, that said it all, a simple but de·li·cious dish, a promising book.

Autentico cookbook cover

The quality of the print by St. Martin’s Griffin is outstanding. The pictures accompany the recipes, not only to describe the final look of the plate, but their history and geographical connotation, which include some of the best piatti from all over Italy, some familiar, others waiting to be discovered.

In the foreword of Autentico, Rolando describes himself as “a nomad and a mutt, constantly commuting between Florence, to New York and San Francisco”. His philosophy? “If you have a great pantry, you can be a great cook! Buy what is fresh and in season from the market and make dishes the way they are meant to be: simple and delicious”. In 1989, at the age of 25, he founded Manicaretti (the Italian word for delicacies) to bring Italy’s finest foods and regional specialties to the US.

We wet him at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and we loved him. I could tell to you about him, his smile and his boyish looks… .but what’s the point. We are here to talk about food. So, here he is…

8 Questions with “Mr. Autentico” Rolando Beramendi

1) Rolando when you think of Italy, what’s the first think on your mind? I think of fantastic meals at my grandmother’s dinner table, where the food and wine created a sense of sharing. That’s why Manicaretti was born, to let people travel into Italian culture and history by enjoying traditional artisan foods.

2) How has the US market changed since you started? 30 years ago, it was so different, there were mainly industrial products, the big brands. When I started, I was showing my products to different distributors and retailers, going around with my basket full of very strange, little bizarre Italian products, like unfiltered olive oil, arugula pesto, traditional balsamic vinegar, and people were asking me: “Who is going to buy this? This is crazy!”.

But I was very fortunate I was in San Francisco in the early ‘90s, where the food revolution was born, I was at the right place at the right time. Thanks to the Bay Area, the chefs, and the restaurants, most of my products became part of what is now California cuisine. Without them, they would not exist.

If you have a great pantry, you can be a great cook!

3) Do you see any difference between East and West Coast? California was always interested in Italian products, like puntarelle, which now grow in Californiat too, but at that time nobody knew what they are. I think the main difference between the two coasts is that Californians prefer to eat local fresh products, whereas on the East Coast they are interested in everything from everywhere. For them, a product that comes from California or from Italy is equidistant”.

4) What is your favorite restaurant in LA? I love Chi SPACCA, because I love meat, sono onnivoro, I am omnivore (check out Chi SPACCA’s signature dishes here). I love Nancy Silverton, she was my first chef client when she had a restaurant called Campanile, she comes a lot to Umbria where she owns a house.

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5) Favorite dish as a kid? There is nothing better than a toasted piece of bread, some garlic and drenched in olive oil. Really good olive oil, la fettunta, like we call it in Tuscany, is my most favorite thing in the world.

6) The best dish you cannot replicate from your father, mother, nonna, zia …? My Nonna’s Irma malfatti. I tried so hard, I tried hundreds of times. In Florence, we also call it gnudi. They are gnocchi made with spinach and ricotta cheese instead of potato. She would make it with spinach or chard, and never measured anything. She just mixed all the ingredients together, put them in the water using a spoon, and then served them with a very simple tomatoes sauce. They were just so unbelievable! I cannot get them right, I don’t have the recipe and so they will be forever in my memory.

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7) The dish that you master? I can make a great risotto blindfolded for 150 people. In fact, I did it once in India for a private dinner. To make a good risotto you need good ingredients, very fresh rice, make it all’onda, “like a wave”, when it is cooked to the right texture and consistency.

8) What’s next for Manicaretti? After 30 years, the fact that Manicaretti is still alive and is recognized as an authority of quality, is unbelievable for me, especially when you start in your garage as a one-man company. For me, the future of good food is trying to keep traditions alive. I think it is very important that we concentrate on high-quality ingredients, simple things not too complicated. If you have the best quality products in your pantry, you are always going to make great food.

Autentico: Cooking Italian The Authentic Way
Author: Rolando Beramendi
Hardcover: 361 Pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Order on Amazon or Barnes & Noble


Photos courtesy of Rolando Beramendi and Manicaretti. All rights reserved.