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‚Äč© 2019 by ALBERTO SABBADINI.     All photographs © 2019 by George Lange.  

I was born and raised in Friuli. From my village, Magnano in Riviera—just outside of Udine—we can see the hills that separate Italy from our neighbors in Slovenia. I grew up in a family that is passionate about food. As a child, I would sit on the kitchen stool and watch my grandmother prepare breakfast. As she stirred roasted chestnuts in warm milk, she was already thinking about the gnocchi al pomodoro she’d make for lunch; at lunch, she was planning the arrosto di coniglio—roasted rabbit—for dinner, and soaking beans for her minestra di fagioli for the following day. 

 

Like every family in my neighborhood, we ate fresh vegetables and fruit from the garden. My grandmother’s basket on the kitchen counter tracked the year, starting with strawberries in spring and ending in winter with persimmons and pears. From an early age, I learned to appreciate every season and the bounty each brought to our table. When I turned 15, I decided to turn my passion for food into my vocation: I decided to become a cook, and spent three years in culinary school in Aviano. Upon graduating, I left Friuli and began my culinary journey that eventually brought me to Boulder, Colorado. 

 

I started in the small ski resort of Arosa, Switzerland. After two years in the Swiss Alps—and after completing my mandatory military service—I worked in a four-star hotel in Cortina d’Ampezzo, the ‘Pearl of the Dolomites’. Choosing my work locations carefully was important to me because I wanted to experience and learn local traditions and customs: to this day, I love to sear spätzle in a cast iron pan over a wood fire, as we did in Arosa; or make casunziei, a kind of raviolo found in Cortina, filled with roasted beets and served with melted butter and poppy seeds.

 

After several years in the mountains, I returned closer to home—to the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal in Venice. Here, I trained with amazing chefs and learned techniques for cooking traditional Venetian seafood: sarde in saor, baccalà mantecato, or simple grigliata di pesce e crostacei—grilled fish and shellfish, fresh from the lagoons. These skills served me well when I moved across the lagoon to the island of Torcello. The ‘Locanda Cipriani’ is famous for its vegetable garden and the fishing boats that dock right outside the restaurant with their daily catch: gamberetti, schie, polpo, granseola… these were the bay shrimp and gray shrimp, the octopus and the spider crab we would prepare for our guests that day. I spent more than five years cooking from the lagoons of Venice. To understand the local traditions, it’s important to know a place through all the seasons.

 

From Venice, I travelled to Turkey to help open an Italian restaurant in Istanbul. I spent my year there exploring the markets full of fresh-caught seafood, exotic fruits and vegetables, and Middle-Eastern spices.

 

My next move was to the US. I chose Aspen for its natural beauty and winter activities, and because it reminded me of home: while far from the sea, its peaks and conifer forests sometimes feel like the Carnic Alps of northern Friuli. I worked as a chef at L'Hostaria, a popular Italian restaurant in downtown Aspen. My new friends and colleagues in Colorado introduced me to Boulder, and in 2003 I moved to the Boulder Country Club where I was Executive Chef for seven years. Seeking to re-connect with the fresh produce I knew from home, I found my way to The Kitchen, Boulder’s original ‘farm-to-table’ restaurant. While I was Chef de Cuisine at The Kitchen and opened The Kitchen [Next Door], I began to forge my own connections with Boulder’s many great farmers.

 

These relationships naturally led me to found the Boulder Butcher Guild, through which I teach the craft of whole animal butchery—something I learned from my father in Friuli—using animals raised by local farmers and ranchers. And I spent the last two summers as Chef of Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. A mobile kitchen looking out over the rows of crops is like my grandmother’s kitchen overlooking our family’s garden. This is where I cooked some of the best meals of my life.