A Great Loss to the Food World

just yesterday, before i heard the sad news, i was thinking i must visit vinnie scotto at his west village restaurant gonzo. the only reason i haven’t been for a while is because it is so hopping and popular the noise level is a bit much if i’m trying to have a conversation. but the food is terrific and so is vinnie and family. this is a family affair with lovely sister donna as maitre d’/manager and dad as accountant.i first met vinnie when he was chef at scotto’s (no family relationship). i begged him for his ginger cookie recipe he used for a his fabulous ice cream sandwich—a recipe that reappeared when he chefed at scopa and of course at gonzo. he sent the recipe within weeks. faith willinger, a great american food writer living in florence, suggested that i get the latini pasta she introduced me to from vinnie because i used so much of it. for several years he charged me wholesale and then refused to charge me at all. that was just the way vinnie was—loving, generous to a fault, and a brilliantly innovative and capable cook. it was he who developed the recipe for thin crust pizza when he worked at al forno in providence, r.i. and when i was working on the bread bible he invited me into his kitchen to teach me. i never ate dinner at any of his restaurants without a pizza appearing within minutes of arrival. and one new year’s eve, shortly after he opened gonzo, he showed me a white truffle the size of a tennis ball saying that would be his new year’s dinner. (not all of it, however, so we ordered pasta with truffle. he virtually showered it with the truffle.) my very best memory of vinnie will always be the night he preopened scopa. there were only about 4 tables filled and as we sat eating his glorious food i said to elliott: “the wonderful thing about vinnie is that not only is he a great cook, he’s a beautiful person.” i have the sort of voice that one has to be very close to hear well. but apparently one of the two women sitting at the next table heard as when she got up to leave she came over and kissed me saying: “ i’m vinnie’s mother.” (i was glad that this hadn’t been one of the times elliott had chosen to contradict me—he often likes to play devil’s advocate!) my heart goes out to her and to the rest of vinnie’s family. he was a giant of a man, handsome and kind, and only 40 years old. i will always remember him and i’m sure i’m not alone.