Two sibling chefs team up to host Mother’s Day, Scatena-style
California seems the obvious backdrop for a story about two siblings that grow up to work together as farm-to-table chefs. Setting the scene, too, are European parents who packed sushi school lunches and took them to four-star restaurants for dinners out. But even though this is where Amalia and Bill Scatena’s story begins, their paths diverged—they each honed their culinary skills in their own way, on their own time, and in their own choice of locations—before their lives came full circle and cooking brought them back together. Here in the South, they now share professional kitchens as the dynamic duo they have become.
The Scatenas’ childhood home in Northern California backed up to a dry creek bed rife with blackberry bushes. Every summer, Bill and his father would cut the tops off gallon milk jugs and lace string through the sides to create a makeshift harvest basket necklace, a way to keep their hands free to battle menacing nettles and thorns. Destined for the big stockpot that Bill and Amalia’s mother kept bubbling away all summer, the berries paid dividends (in both jam and nostalgia) for years after the family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. There, their father’s pasta sauces would leave indelible scents in their memories and they’d learn the ineffable import of a home-cooked meal.
After high school, Amalia, who always knew she wanted to work with food, promptly enrolled in culinary school in Florence, Italy—a city not far from her father’s birthplace of Pisa and a region whose ingredient-driven cuisine resonated strongly with her. Italy crystallized her love for assertive flavors (“We are arugula people,” she jokes about the family’s obsession with the peppery green) and seafood so freshly plucked from the water that a wood fire and squeeze of lemon is all it requires.
Even though he was envious of his older sister’s la dolce vita, Bill didn’t recognize his culinary calling until he began working in restaurants while he was in college in Colorado. The thrill he felt after being handed the pizza peel one night when they were short-staffed compared to nothing he felt in his academic pursuits. He proved far more committed to his restaurant job—showing up thirty minutes early every day—than to his studies, so he left school early and returned to Charlottesville, where Amalia had also returned after culinary school.
Amalia secured Bill an interview at Charlottesville’s esteemed property, Keswick Hall, where she was then chef de cuisine under local legend Craig Hartman. With the favor, however, came the caveat that her little brother was on his own from there. Bill landed a spot in banquet prep, amassing enough know-how (and demonstrating enough ambition) that when the line lost a cook one night with nineteen tickets open, he jumped in without missing a beat. The feat earned him a two-day-a-week role on garde manger and it’s one he took very seriously: “I went home every night and prepared. I didn’t want Amalia to be embarrassed by any of my shortcomings. I wanted to make her proud and to make my chef proud.”
Amalia praises Bill’s knack for presentation and his ability to stay calm under pressure—precisely why she hired him to be her sous chef at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards after five years of working at Keswick. Pippin Hill, a winery that is a restaurant by day and a full-service wedding venue by night, seemed tailor-made for Amalia. She got to do what Bill says she does best: put Virginia’s agricultural and artisan riches on stage in dishes that respect traditional technique, yet shine with their own sense of place and style. In Bill, Amalia not only got an organized right hand that knew what to do without being asked, but also an artist who helped her plate food with the same care he used to line up his toys as a young boy. Together, the Scatena siblings drew from their parents’ European sensibility, their California upbringing, and their unique experiences to make Pippin Hill an incomparable destination for celebrating food, wine, and nature.
Time off from their respective burners means traveling to California where their parents returned to live, or hosting them in Charlottesville or Charleston. Meal preparation becomes, not surprisingly, a family affair. Bill loves to give his sister a break (even though Amalia can’t resist jumping in) and works with his dad to plan the menu and shop the markets while their mom does the baking. This seamless teamwork didn’t happen, of course, without mom and dad first needing to work through some insecurity over cooking for their super talented progeny. Still, the family’s favorite meals remain simple ones—fish or meat cooked on a wood fire with seasonal sides.
Bill credits his family for his kitchen credo (put your heart and soul into everything, no matter the audience), and it’s one with which he inspires his own mentees. And while he firmly believes that there is no such thing as a VIP, he still considers one person as the ultimate litmus test: “Would you send this out to your mom?”
Note: This story was originally published in the May 2016 issue.
Scatena Mother’s Day Menu
The drowsy chaperone–a drink named and inspired by a play of the same name…which once starred the family’s matriarch.
You should make this two days in advance and store in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld. When ready to serve, all you need to do is grill some bread and the appetizer is done.
A combination of ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh chèvre gives this unctuous spread the perfect balance of salinity and creaminess. You can serve this year-round, simply change the garnish based on the season—Scatena uses dried fruit in winter, pickled fresh apricots in spring, and oven-roasted tomatoes in summer.
Let it chill and set overnight, garnish last minute with the orange zest, salt, and additional pistachios.
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