Chris Boswell - Rome Sustainable Food Project
Until 2007, a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome—arguably, the most prestigious prize awarded to archaeologists, painters, architects, scholars, and artists—had one huge drawback: the food. The dining room, ideally a place for Fellows to gather and for disciplines to “cross-pollinate,” was catered by an outside company whose dreadful food was to be avoided at all costs. But when AAR President Chatfield-Taylor asked Alice Waters to help, Waters famously responded, “That depends. What do you want, better food—or a revolution?” Fatefully and without hesitation, Chatfield-Taylor replied, “A revolution.” And a revolution was ignited.
A year later later, the ideals (local, seasonal, organic, sustainable) were implemented and the kitchen was up and running, with Chez Panisse alums Mona Talbott and Christopher Boswell as chefs. In a matter of days, not only were the Fellows filling the tables at lunch and dinner, they were gathered ‘round the blackboard at 11am, anxiously waiting for the daily menus to be posted. The press wasn’t far behind.
Even if you haven’t landed one of the coveted internships in the kitchen at the American Academy in Rome, you can have a behind-the-scenes tutorial in the way that pastas and sauces are made in its kitchen. The recipes in Pasta: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, Rome Sustainable Food Project ($22.00) are arranged in the same order as the interns are taught to make them, from simple to more complex, and are organized the way Italians think about pasta, not only as fresh or dry but by the base of the sauces (oil, tomato, meat, and vegetable). Boswell includes simple techniques, small refinements, and easy variations. Sauces—and even meatballs—are often lighter than their Italian counterparts. Flavors are bright. Ingredients shine. Each dish tells a unique story.
Seven years later, Verdure: Vegetable Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, Rome Sustainable Food Project ($22.00) is the RSFP’s fourth cookbook (following Biscotti, Zuppe, Pasta). It is perhaps the ideal collaboration among the kitchen and the Academy garden, the artisan producers, and the organic farmers who provide the impeccable raw ingredients used in each dish. Its 92 recipes are arranged seasonally; week by week, it can be used to navigate the harvest of the farmer’s market. Frugality is a consideration: the RSFP kitchen feeds a group, and cost is a consideration (beans, grains, and greens take a starring role). Maximizing flavor is paramount, while every recipe appears simple and is easy to execute, they rise far above the fundamental.
Christopher Boswell is the Executive Chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project. He has been at the RSFP since the program was established in 2006, when he was chosen by Alice Waters to work with former RSFP Executive Chef Mona Talbott. Boswell started out as a dishwasher and a prep cook in the small gold rush town of Jackson, California. He worked at Stars, Acquarello, and One Market restaurants before moving to Italy for a year to learn authentic Italian rustic cooking. Boswell then joined Chez Panisse, where he received five years of intensive training under Alice Waters and her brigade of distinguished chefs.
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