Chef Paul Bartolotta recently received the high honor of being invited to cook at the 2015 World Expo in Milan, Italy at the James Beard American Restaurant. When it came time to choose the culinary team who would accompany him, he turned to his protégé, Bartolotta’s Corporate Chef Adam Siegel, and three chefs from his Milwaukee restaurants: Corporate Sous Chef for Bartolotta’s, Aaron Bickham; Executive Chef of Bacchus, Nick Wirth; and Chef de Cuisine of Lake Park Bistro, Miles Borghgraef.

Paul was the guest chef at the restaurant on Friday, May 22 and Saturday, May 23, preparing a five-course dinner each evening for a group of 60 guests. The temporary restaurant in downtown Milan is located at the Seven Stars Galleria, at the famous Galleria Vitterio Emanuelle II, one of Europe’s oldest outdoor malls. The menu for the two evenings included seafood sourced from Paul’s purveyor in Northern Italy – red mullet, cuttlefish and Sicilian amberjack – as well as ricotta-swiss chard ravioli, roasted lamb and Ligurian lemon-olive oil cake.

“Each dinner started around 7:30 p.m. with passed appetizers and ended around 11 p.m.,” said Siegel. “After dinner the first night, we went to a bar on the galleria that faces the Milan Duomo, had a bottle of champagne and talked about our game plan for the second night. The second dinner was excellent, even better than the first.”

The group spent nine days in Italy, the first half of the trip being for business – preparing for and serving the two dinners at the James Beard American Restaurant – and the second half being for pleasure. Their two days of prep were spent at Michelin 3-star “Da Vitterio” in Bergamo, and Sunday, once the dinners were behind them, they spent the day exploring the World Expo. More than 100 countries were represented, and each country built their own structure that embodied the theme of this year’s expo, which is “Feeding the Planet.” 

“Expo Milano was like a giant Epcot Center without the rides,” said Adam. “You walk into each country’s building and see their exhibit. USA had food trucks and a vertical garden that momved toward the sun on one of the walls – it was very cool!”

The trip to Italy was a first for Aaron, Nick and Miles, and they made the most of their time there, sleeping very little and packing in an abundance of travel, sightseeing and, of course, food. Highlights included rising early to peruse the fresh markets in Venice and Florence, riding a water taxi through Venice, taking in the beautiful countryside as they drove from city to city, and enjoying incredible Italian meals, each one better than the last.

Breakfast one day was salt cod on toast with red wine, and lunches were focaccias, hand-tossed pizza and fresh seafood.

“In Venice, we had lunch at a very old seafood trattoria called Trattoria Maddona,” said Siegl. “The waiter who served us there had worked there 54 years – he was great. We ate baby octopus, mantis shrimp, cuttlefish cooked in its own ink with polenta, baby sole, and the best wild clams I’ve ever had in my life.”

That evening, the group went to a small concerto in a church, where an 8-piece orchestra played Vivaldi. “It was amazing,” said Siegel. They rose the next morning to explore the markets in Venice, which boast seafood, produce, meats, flowers and much more. “There are no grocery stores in Venice.”

Later that day they had a meal they’ll remember for a lifetime. They had lunch at Ristorante San Domenico, the Michelin 2-star restaurant where Paul and Adam both worked – Paul for seven years at the start of his career, and Adam in 1998-1999 before he joined The Bartolotta Restaurants. To return was a proud moment for both of them, and after their meal, which included tortellini with peas, gnocchi with fava beans and suckling pig, they visited the famous wine cellar there, which was constructed nearly 600 years ago and boasts over 50,000 bottles of wines, two of which are from Napolean’s collection.

This trip was Adam’s first time back to Italy since his time spent at San Domenico.

The thread that ties San Domenico to Milwaukee and the influence that the famous restaurant has on The Bartolotta Restaurants is a strong one. Chef Juan Urbieta, Executive Chef at Ristorante Bartolotta, also worked at the restaurant for six months in 1998, bringing the experience to the flagship restaurant in Wauwatosa.

After touring San Domenico, the group drove through the Tuscan countryside and stopped in a small town called Scarperia, where a lot of famous Italian knives are made. They visited shops and all bought knives to take back home with them to their kitchens. After checking into their hotel in Florence, they ate some of the best pizza they’ve ever had, and then walked around town into the early morning hours seeing all the sights they could take in.

The highlight of their final day in Italy was lunch at a famous restaurant called Da Delfina, where they spent hours eating delicious food, drinking great wine, smoking cigars, enjoying the gorgeous weather and scenery and recapping what had been an unforgettable trip.