Roberto and Alimentari’s owner, Donna Lennard
The two of them are like family. She considers him her son’s uncle, and right before this picture was taken she gave him a big smooch on the lips. (Notice the “Bangkok City” t-shirt, evidence of Roberto’s recent hiatus in Southeast Asia).
Roberto and Alfredo
Roberto talks with Alfredo Ruiz, Director of Operations at both Il Bucos. Roberto calls him a “dear old friend” and “kindred spirit.” The chance to work with Alfredo was another big reason why he decided to come back.
Still full of joy about being reunited.
Make way for dinner
Roberto quickly repositions a series of tables as the early dinner crowd starts filtering in. He is adamant that there is no task in a restaurant that is too small for him to help with. (Why is this photo blurry? Because I’m totally distracted by the beautiful prosciutto hanging in the background).
He wasn't kidding
Roberto told me that he loves conversing one-on-one with his co-workers, but I never would have know the extent of it had I not seen it myself (at least ten times in the course of half an hour). He told me that the chance to help his co-workers move up to higher positions makes him happier than just about anything.
Hanging with the chef
Roberto shares a few minutes with Alimentari’s chef, Justin Smillie, while the kitchen turn out the first appetizers of the night. Roberto says that Smillie’s food is “extremely full of bold flavors,” which makes it possible to suggest wines with flavors that are “totally alive.”
The soulful stare
Get used to this picture. When Roberto is not pouring wine or doing any other random tasks, you’ll almost certainly find him conversing closely and intently with a member of the staff. (It didn’t take long to figure out that Roberto’s relationship with his co-workers is one of his favorite parts about working in a restaurant). One look at Roberto’s gaze and you can begin to tell why he is so good at connecting with his co-workers and customers (for the record, he hates the word, “customer,” and would rather think of them as family).
Guess who's coming to dinner
Roberto checks in with host Maggie Simonelli.
Italy's most wanted
What’s so funny? Roberto claims that he is wanted by the Italian police, and that this story is going to blow his cover. We’ve contacted the proper authorities and are looking into it. (Of course, Roberto also told the entire staff at a pre-service meeting that I was shooting a story on him for GQ, so I guess we may never know).
The Italian mafia
By now you might have the impression that Roberto (who poses for group photos, and even goes outside to have a chat with) might be ignoring his customers. Rest assured, it was Saturday evening, the restaurant had just opened, and it was very slow. Roberto and staffers Andrea Luliucci and Giacamo Bisa call themselves (for my benefit at the very least) the “Italian mafia.” Joking aside, the fact that these young guys want to have their picture taken with Roberto gives you some sense of the paternal role that he plays in the restaurant.
Always a student
Roberto studies the menu. He probably knows it back to front, but I got the distinct impression that the day Roberto thinks he can no longer learn something new about a topic, or pass that knowledge on to someone else, is the day that he hangs it up for good.
Roberto refers to dinner service as “the show.” Every night when the show starts, he says, it’s his job to hit the floor, happy, smiling, and totally comfortable in his own skin. With a bottle of wine in his hand, he is very comfortable, indeed.
Home sweet home
Roberto inspects, and wipes a little dust from a hand-made map of Italy propped up in the front of the restaurant. Not surprisingly, he remembers perfectly the former employee who made it.