You would think in this age of ubiquitous foodie press coverage that when a reasonably well-known chef dies, the media would at least acknowledge his death. Yet when 39-year-old Vincent Scotto of Gonzo died on May 17 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Brooklyn, it went almost unnoticed, in the blogosphere and out. Eater picked up on it, so did Zagat, and there was a fairly slender thread on Chowhound, but somehow his death went unacknowledged by the New York Times, even though when you punch his name into the Times search engine, 18 links come up, including a two-star review from Ruth Reichl when Scotto was all of 25.
When he died, Vinnie was cooking terrific food at Gonzo, where he served the best grilled pizza in New York. Vinnie had mastered the art of grilled pizza at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island under the watchful eye of George Germon. He first surfaced in New York as the opening chef at Fresco, where grilled pizza is still a staple of the restaurant. That's when I first met him with his friend Faith Willinger, the Italian cookbook author and Italian food expert. While at Fresco, Vinnie co-wrote the Fresco Cookbook. He went from there to Scopa, where he opened a really fine restaurant (I remember his Florentine-style steak there being one of my favorites in the city) and a take-out shop that served terrific grilled pizza and sandwiches. He left Scopa to open Gonzo (with his sister Donna), which is where he was when he died.
Vinnie was not only a decent, sweet, articulate man, he was one helluva cook. He made lusty, deeply flavored Italian-American food. But he could also be subtle when a dish called for that, perhaps owing to his stint cooking at Al Covo in Venice.
Among Italian chefs in this country, he was revered for his dedication and knowledge to all things Italian. When I emailed Mario Batali about Vinnie's passing without the media noticing, he agreed that it was odd that Vinnie's death did not precipitate either an obit or food section mention in the Times.
Mario had this to say: "Vinnie was talented, thoughtful, steeped in tradition, well traveled in Italy, fluent in Italian and well respected on both sides of the Atlantic. Vinnie Scotto was among the five or six best Italian-American chefs in the U.S. His food was an excellent example of respect for Italian culture with a wide eye to the magnificence of the American field and stream."
High praise from Molto Mario, indeed.
Think about it. A chef no less an authority than Batali says that Vinnie Scotto was among the five best Italian-American chefs in the U.S., and yet there has barely been scant coverage of his tragic early death at the age of 39.
A really good chef and man fell in his house and nobody heard. Hard to understand, hard to understand.
Vinnie's sister Donna, his partner at Gonzo, is continuing to run the restaurant. Go have a grilled pizza or a bowl of pasta and toast Vincent Scotto.
Address: 140 West 13th Street, New York NY 10011
Here's a couple of Vinnie Scotto's recipes. Cook them and you'll see what Mario is talking about.
Vincent Scotto's Onion Salad
- makes 4 servings -
Ingredients 4 large yellow onions, unpeeled
10 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
2 slices Tuscan bread, 3/4-inch thick
1 clove garlic, unpeeled, halved
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat until hot. Cut off the ends of each onion so that you can see the rings. Cut the onions crosswise into 3/4-inch to 1-inch slices, keeping the rings intact and the skins on as much as possible. Brush cut sides with 4 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill slices until tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes per side. If they burn, scrape off the charred portion. (A little tastes OK.) Let cool.
2. Meanwhile, grill the bread until toasted, rub on both sides with the cut sides of the garlic and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and salt. Cut into crouton-size pieces.
3. When onions are cool, remove remaining skins and separate into rings—they will resemble small bottomless bowls. Divide 1/2 among four plates, sprinkle with 1/2 the parsley, 1/2 the Parmesan and 1/2 the croutons. Repeat with the remaining ingredients on top. Drizzle with the lemon juice and the remaining oil.
ONION RAGU WITH PENNE
- makes 6 to 8 servings -
This recipe, adapted from Scopa, will take about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Ingredients 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
4 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 to 6 scallions, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces to make 1 cup
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced into half-moons
1/2 cup finely chopped pickled cherry peppers
1/2 cup liquid from pickled cherry peppers
1 1/4 pounds penne pasta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot over low heat, warm olive oil and add garlic. Slowly saute garlic just until light golden brown. Add onions, scallions and leeks, and mix well. Cover and simmer until onions are very soft and beginning to caramelize, about 1 1/2 hours.
2. Add cherry peppers and pickling liquid, and mix well. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add penne, and cook until very al dente, 6 to 7 minutes. Reserve a cup or two of pasta water, then drain pasta well.
4. Season ragu with salt and pepper to taste, and mix in the parsley. Add pasta to ragu. Simmer pasta in ragu for 2 minutes, adding some pasta water if it is too dry.
5. To serve, arrange pasta mixture on a large heated platter. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste, and serve.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.