The Man Behind Marigold
Get To Know: Domenico Cortese
As one of the few Italians in the Marigold family, Domenico brings the indisputable Italian simplicity to the lunch, pre-dinner and dinner menus.
Domenico spent decades in all sorts of professional kitchens before manning the helm at Marigold: beach club kitchens; foreign kitchens; makeshift kitchens; diplomatic kitchens; the kitchen at the American Academy in Rome (AAR), more formally known as the Rome Sustainable Food Project (RSFP); and of course his home kitchen where he first began to experiment and prepare meals for The Eatery in Rome, our pop-up restaurant.
The Young Cook
As a boy from the small town of Tropea in Calabria he passed his summers between dips in the sea, fishing the mediterranean, and crashing the kitchens of local beach clubs, marking the start of his culinary journey.
After high school he followed his Dutch girlfriend back to her hometown of Rotterdam and began working at an Italian restaurant. He learned invaluable kitchen doctrines like self-discipline, accountability, and teamwork. Over the years he pulled himself up the ranks, making his way from dishwasher to chef. But after braving the winters (and the language) for nearly half a decade, the small town kid from Calabria was ready to kick back to the boot.
Returning to Italy didn't mean going home to Tropea. A feisty bachelor high on life, he settled in Rome hustling chef jobs in any form they came in. Among them: cooking up breakfast each morning for international businessmen at the Hilton FCO; cooking alongside large catering teams to feed 4,000 participants at business conferences; even serving as the private chef to the Argentinian Ambassador to Italy in his residence in Monti. Each experience brought with it a different nuance to approaching food preparation. It wasn't until he was hired as a cook in the Rome Sustainable Food Project (RSFP) kitchen that gave the young cook the space to express himself and explore his creativity.
The Chef at the American Academy in Rome
In 2009 a twist of fate brought Domenico into the RSFP kitchen under Executive Chef Mona Talbott and Sous Chef Chris Boswell. It was a kitchen that honed his skills and brought to light new talents, techniques, and culinary sensibilities.
At RSFP, cooking was no longer simply a job to Domenico but a self-defining passion. The RSFP kitchen is built on the pillars of sustainable food preparation established by legendary food altruist Alice Waters, which includes an organic garden located on the same sun-kissed grounds of the academy perched on the Janiculum Hill. The garden produces fresh, seasonal produce all year-round that RSFP chefs use to feed academy fellows. So much of Domenico's careful attention to high-quality, seasonal produce - which makes up the majority of the weekly lunch and dinner menus - can be attributed to being closely engaged with the philosophy of Alice Waters and the RSFP.
When Chef Mona Talbott moved on, Chef Chris Boswell was promoted to Executive Chef and Domenico became his Sous Chef, a position that brought with it the freedom to personally craft the menus for academy fellows, trustees, and guests. This nurtured Domenico's knack for combining simple ingredients in a way that highlights each one but still relishes something unpredictable. Think of it as his innate Italian attention to culinary simplicity.
It was in the RSFP kitchen that Domenico met Sofie. Sofie had come to the RSFP as an intern for a few months before eventually moving on to Paris. By the impulse of his inner high school kid, Domenico decided to follow her, but after a year or so returned to Rome and settled back in the RSFP kitchen. It was in Paris that their dream to open a restaurant together began to take shape. In fact "The Eatery" was conceived in Paris, long before the first pop-up dinner would take place in their Monteverde home.
Domenico returns to the marigold kitchen with some freshly foraged three-corner leek flowers.
The Eatery in Rome
When Sofie moved to Rome, a mutual friend suggested she and Domenico host dinner parties at home, and thus The Eatery in Rome was born. The pop-up dinners were held every other Saturday. Twelve cosy seats around a long rectangular table made for intimate conversation among strangers brought together for the love of good food, good wine, and the warm hospitality of the Italian-Danish foodie power couple.
Sofie and Domenico extended their services through The Eatery in Rome to include private catering from dinners and receptions (including standing appointments to cook at the Danish Embassy, bringing Domenico back to his diplomatic roots).
The dinners at home allowed Domenico to experiment without limitation. The dinners became a platform where he could build on techniques he learned at the RSFP and with ingredients he'd become familiar with through its garden, as well as take advantage of the small one that had sprouted on the couple's balcony.
Living near Villa Pamphili has also served as a source of inspiration and fresh, wild ingredients. Domenico often retreats to the park on his day off to reconnect with nature - a life-long passion of his - and forage for local and indigenous herbs, edible flowers and wild greens.
After four years of successfully building The Eatery in Rome together, Domenico and Sofie decided the moment was right to take their dream to the next level. In December 2018, Marigold opened its doors.
the expo at dinner is a smorgasbord of veggie delights: (1) asparagus with gribiche sauce and pistachio dressing topped with raw agretti; (2) babaganoush with roasted zucchini; (3) roasted carrots with a special lupine mayonnaise.
The Chef at Marigold
Inspiration for each day's menu can come from anywhere. Like many chefs, a trip to the market can do the trick, which is the inspiration for many of Domenico's vegetable-based dishes that feature raw, roasted, pickled, and grilled veggies.
Other times a simple meal outdoors with friends in Tuscany can be spark an idea, like the popular braised beef ribs that made their debut on the Marigold dinner in early 2019 and still make regular appearances.
But most often, Domenico just needs a moment in front of all the fresh ingredients at his disposal to trigger an idea, a memory, or something new altogether. For Domenico, it's not about reinventing the wheel with new recipes but rather about taking note from his repertoire of classic dishes and adding a piece of himself into it.
Everyday he sets a new challenge for himself, constantly pushing himself to stay true to who he is. By way of philosophy, he trusts his instinct, believes in the purity in and among ingredients that create a dish, and commits to the flavors in real food. If anything were to define the food at Marigold and the chef behind it, it would be these three words.
The door to the kitchen at Marigold is open and acts like a window, framing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the the workspace of the man behind Marigold. Next time you dine in, take a second to watch the show. You'll appreciate the experience so much more.