By Walter Sanders
I caught the tail-end of a Ruth Reichl interview on NPR the other day. Ruth, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, is getting a ton of air time in the wake of that iconic publication’s demise and her new cookbook.
She was asked about her favorite, go-to, family, comfort food, a meal she enjoys making and eating at home. She answered quickly, decisively: “Spaghetti carbonara.” Then she rattled off her recipe, threw in some technique details, and convinced me that she was practicing what she was preaching.
I’ve met people whose love for Italian food could be traced to their first encounter with an authentic carbonara. But I haven’t met many whose career was shaped by its defining ingredient and flavor – pancetta – cured pork belly.
Warren Stephens is chef and a business partner with Butcher and Calcasieu, two enterprises of the wildly successful Link Restaurant Group of New Orleans. He had his pancetta moment in Tuscany. Stephens, born and raised in North Carolina, always felt drawn to food. But when he visited a friend living in Tuscany, and tasted his first carbonara, he became fascinated by the alluring flavor of pancetta. “I bought hunks of it, and experimented with cutting, cooking, and tasting it. That led to me to exploring more about pork products, and eventually returning to the U.S. to make and sell my own cured meats.”