Like so many chefs, Peperoncino's Barbara Alfano learned the aromas, flavors and traditions of southern Italian cuisine "between the burners and ovens" with her two nonnas. The quality time she spent with her grandmothers, particularly during those long, hot Calabrian summers, proved inspirational and formative. One dish in particular – her nonna's melanzane chine, or stuffed eggplants – had a particular effect on her. "In the small town of Saracena, all women make their version of this dish," recalls Alfano. It's a classic secondo on Sundays, served with sauteed bitter greens, spicy peperoncino, green salad and what Alfano calls patate e puppazz', or potatoes with peppers. "The aroma of the peppers when they hit the pan, and the eggplant when it gets roasted, triggers something fantastic inside my brain ... it activates the love and passion I feel for cooking."
Indeed, the potent union of food and memory impacted Alfano's life in a meaningful way. While she's mastered the art of feeding, she's keenly aware of the importance of entertaining, and she wants to be sure her guests leave with special memories of their own. "Customers tell me all the time that my dishes bring back memories of their grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-aunts, and I tear up every time they tell me." As far as replicating her nonna's stuffed eggplants, that's easier said than done. "She's tried numerous times to explain it to me step by step, but it never turns out the same."