For Taste of Italy 2016, Downtown Los Angeles turned into an Italian food heaven. Catch up with the highlights from an epic night!

Once you arrive at the newly restored Los Angeles Union Station, you see them from afar. Hundreds of them. Lining up religiously along the IAMLA, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, sponsor of the annual Taste of Italy. No way you are going to miss it, just follow the swarm of people who fill up the piazza near La Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, @Olvera Street, the heart of L.A.

Once you walk the red carpet, you are welcomed by Marianna Gatto, executive director of IAMLA and an historian of the Southern California Italian community, and project Manager Francesca Guerrini.  “Taste of Italy is now at the 8th edition,” explains Marianna. “Every year is better, every year is bigger, we continue to grow. It is a benefit for the Italian American Museum. Beyond that, we want to showcase what Italian and Italian-American culture is all about, given so many horrible representations of it.

“There is a little bit of everything, but all of it has value. We like to provide education on cuisine, wine, food, and music. Our goal is to look at our history, while enjoying what’s contemporary and keeping an eye to the future. Our festival and all of our efforts are channelled towards what is important. Remember that food is memory, food is family… food is love, food is tradition.”


Taste of Italy Los Angeles 2016: Italian traditions find a new home in LA

None more important than the center square booth of Mimmo Bruno and his “awesome-truly-original and authentic italian crew” from Di Stefano Cheese: Massimo, Stefano & Naomi, Raffy & Pam, Danny & Christina and Alex, the little one in the Bruno’s family, Antonio & Rosaria, Vito, Alessandro, and the beautiful girls Alessandra, Naomi, Pam, Christina e Alissa (I am not counting the married ones). Later on they gave a demonstration of “how to make mozzarella and burrata (burr-aaa-thhha”)… and some lucky ones, including myself, got the eat a few palline, aka fresh mozzarella balls. Sorry guys.

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Taste of Italy really gave us good “samples” of more than 35 of the region’s best Italian and Kali-Ita restaurant & wineries, as well as live entertainment (the best were nostalgia’s with Loredana Bertè & the LA Opera), chef demonstrations, and celebrity guests.

As soon as I walked in, I could not miss a NOTORIOUS P.I.G. shirt by the Prosciutto di Parma booth’s main Brooklyn man Francesco Lupo. Only fair to ask what does make a good pig? “The way it is treated and what it eats. In the Parma area, there are more than 1,500 breeders that only breed pigs for the prosciutto. They treat the animal very well, everything has to be certified before it gets cured …we truly love pigs.”

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“It’s the first time we attend Taste of Italy with the Consorzio of Prosciutto di Parma,” Francesco continues. “We are here because we want to highlight how Prosciutto is an iconic centerpiece in the italian kitchen. How it was fit for kings and emperors. People need to know the uniqueness of Parma’s Prosciutto, 2000 year of traditions for you to taste right now, right here. Just know that the Romans invaded Emilia Romagna for it…”

Locanda del Lago from Santa Monica at the Taste of Italy Los Angeles 2016

Locanda del Lago tortelloni … a big hit!

Did I forget the spirited-bubbly wineries?? No, even though at this point in time, I bet most of you have enjoyed wines from approximately 100 world-class distributors like Gruppo I Vinai, Casa Torelli, Pedroncelli Winery, Ventura Limoncello (be careful, it’s addictive), Vinoteca Giannelli, Tenute Chiaromonte (Gambero Rosso called it the best table red wine in Italy), and more. SALUTE!

RELATED: 20 Italian Wines You Should Try, One for Each Region

Other well known figures in the L.A. culinary scene included: Valentino, Calogero, Drago Centro, Il Fornaio, DiStefano Cheese, maestro pizzaiolo Vito Iacopelli from Prova Pizzeria (and his boys!!!), Celestino, Urbani eat-those-sexy-Truffles with Francesco Mazzini, my brother & Spa companion for 20 years (his fav dish: burro & parmigiano… best spaghetti in the world), Locanda del Lago with Wes, Mirko, Daniele, Raul, the lovely and single Jennifer, and their tortelloni with wild boar ragu …

Valentino stand at Taste of Italy Los Angeles 2016

People flocked to the Valentino, Santa Monica stand for their cannoli

Family, traditions, and memories come together in a single bite

Speaking about history & traditions, chef Aurelio Barattino from the Antica Locanda di Sesto, in operation since time forgot, came all the way from Lucca, Italy. His restaurant is known for its authentic Tuscan flavors. “I am a restaurateur and a chef, I am also a farmer, a cook and a wine & oil producer,” Aurelio explains. “I am a 4th generation chef, continuing my family tradition since 1387. The secret for our traditional dishes? Buying the best and freshest ingredients. Our food is not sophisticated, it’s simple, but full of flavors. At Antica Locanda di Sesto, we only use ingredients sourced from our family farm and other local producers in Tuscany.”

RELATED: Traditional or Modern? Searching for the Best Tuscany Wines

“Taste this,” Aurelio says, while giving me a bruschetta with lardo (lard) from Garfagnana, the region north of Lucca. Knowing what it is, I put it in my mouth without hesitation. The rosemary-garlic-peppered lard jam-paste goes everywhere in my mouth, bringing to mind …memories, family and tradition, times where my family (nonno Rinaldo, nonna Irene, uncle Giampiero, Pieraldino e Luciano, aunt Luisa, Franca & Maria Antonietta + 19 first cousins (Mauro, Mara, Barbara e Roberto, Cristina e Tiziano, Damiano, Laura, Dario, Silvia, Luca, Lucia, Lorenzo, Cristiano, Rachele e Silvano and three more girls I don’t remember their name right now, but just because I saw them when they were little….) used to get together in our garden. See how many of us? See family? Get what Marianna was saying before?… that’s right.

“…remember that food is memory, food is family, food is love… food is tradition.”


Taste of Italy Los Angeles 2016 Foodiamo team

Foodiamo was here! Raffaele Asquer (far left) and yours truly (far right), with Umami and 800 Degrees founder Adam Fleischman and chef Barbara Pollastrini

Photos by Raffaele Asquer and Didem Sairoglu for Foodiamo. All rights reserved.

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