By 1951, the Sicilian community owned more than 30% of local businesses and real estate in Monterey. Local fish populations were decreasing, however, and the next generation of Sicilians had begun branching out, looking for opportunities in other industries. Because food played such a major part in everyday Sicilian life, it made sense that many young Sicilians of this generation turned to the restaurant industry. Sicilians founded many of Monterey’s early restaurants, and even today, some of the area’s most recognized restaurant names, like Bert Cutino, owner of the iconic Sardine Factory, and John Pisto, the retired founder of the Whaling Station, boast a strong Sicilian heritage. Other descendants of Sicilian fishermen who over time established themselves in the Monterey Peninsula food world include Philip and John Coniglio, grandchildren of Pietro Ferrante and founders of the beloved Mediterranean Markets of Carmel and Monterey, respectively, and their children, Jason Coniglio, owner of the classic Monterey bar and lounge My Attic (first opened by his grandfather, Horace) and partner with his brother-in-law in Monterey Crepe Co., and Cara Mia Coniglio and her daughter, Tiana Lagemann, creators of the organic, seasonal catering company and pop-up dinner host, Loco Coco. Today, most young Sicilians in Monterey are going away to college and getting degrees. Often they are returning home as lawyers, doctors and other professionals. Many still appreciate their Sicilian heritage, and some, like the Coniglios, are opening food businesses. Others have remained in fishing (see related story about the Tringali family on p. 41), but it is less common. “Fishing is a good profession, but you have to be patient. The fish come in cycles and you can’t expect every year to be good,” one of the old fishermen explains. “Kids today don’t want to wait five years for the fish to return and then still be uncertain about how long they will stay.” The Catania Fish Market To understand the importance of food to Monterey’s Sicilian-American community, it helps to experience open-air markets in Sicily itself. 38 edible monterey bay Summer 2015 I visited the Catania market in January of last year. It was a clear, crisp morning, and a faint trail of smoke was rising above the snow-covered peak of Mt. Etna. Groups of men stood outside of the market around a large courtyard with a central fountain. Bundled in their coats, they talked and smoked, occasionally gesturing at a passerby to join them. It was a weekday, around 10am, and yet the market was filled with shoppers. Small booths lined three narrow alleys and a large square surrounded by historic buildings and cobblestone streets. The sellers ranged from a single fisherman in a thick wool cap and worn sweater lifting a squirming octopus from a small cooler with his weathered hands to proprietors with 30-foot-long displays with dozens of fish and shellfish fanned across beds of ice. In addition to countless varieties of seafood, many of which I could not identify, carts teemed with giant purple cauliflowers, baskets overflowed with large artichokes, and small butcher shops and dozens of other specialty food stores abounded. Some products were refrigerated; many were not. Local shoppers greeted vendors by name, asking questions and procuring an item or two from each of a number of different booths. Most people were only shopping for the day, or even a single meal, buying just enough to feed their families. The next morning they repeated the routine, checking to see what was fresh and creating a daily menu in their head as they perused the different stands. Sicilians are fanatical about quality ingredients. The idea of cooking with a recipe is foreign; rather, they tend to prefer to start with the best ingredients and then use their culinary intuition, passed down by generations of great cooks, to create a perfect meal. An octopus is not simply an octopus—the intrepid Sicilian cook wants to know its story. When was it caught? Who caught it? Was it in the sand or on the rocks? What was it eating? These are all questions that contribute to the quality of the octopus and, therefore, are important to the cook. How to Cook an Octopus Back at Café Lumière in Monterey, Tony Davi explains how he prepares octopus.
edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015
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