Curtis Di Fede
Curtis Di Fede brings together the seasonality of Northern California with the tradition of izakaya to Miminashi, a Japanese gastropub in Napa, California.
• Culinary education found at the Cordon Bleu; externed at London’s Wagamama
• Regards Hiro Sone of Terra in St. Helena as a mentor. Also put in time at the heralded restaurant
• Achieved status as a master of olive oil, a level that only a handful of people in the U.S. can claim
• Taught on the Oceania Cruises, visiting 71 cities, after leaving his restaurant, Oenotri, where he gained national attention. Method to his madness: culinary research
• Favorite exercise: anything to do with the ocean, swimming, and scuba diving in French Polynesia, “which is Hawaii on crack,” Di Fede says.
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Going All the Way
Halfway isn’t a term that Curtis Di Fede understands. When he’s committed, he’s all in, all the time.
Consider his latest venture, Miminashi, a small plates concept based on izakaya, a Japanese pub-style restaurant. He’s traveled to Japan several times to immerse himself in the culture and concept. And he taught cooking on the Oceania cruise line, stopping at 71 cities, which included Japan, for research.
“Dedication, commitment, discipline, and pure bliss,” Di Fede says, ticking off what’s needed to be successful.
The same applies to why Di Fede has completed the competitive swim from the San Francisco Bay to the island of Alcatraz, the former prison turned tourist attraction. In the name of an annual fundraiser, he’s endured frigid, choppy waters with the threat of sharks and plans to do it a third time now that Miminashi has opened.
“I saw the race on TV when I was about 10, and I thought that it was one of the coolest events,” he says. “It’s the biggest adrenaline rush swimming with 300-plus people jumping into the cold San Francisco Bay.”
To train and build endurance, Di Fede swims longer intervals—about 4 miles daily. He completed the 1.7-mile distance in 37 minutes, but he says it never gets easy because the currents are unpredictable. The challenge is treacherous, for sure, not unlike diving for abalone, which he has done since he was 14.
The difficulty depends on how deep Di Fede goes when he jumps off California’s Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.
“Sometimes visibility is the hardest part,” he says. “You are not allowed to use a tank by law, so you must free dive for them. They are on rocks, and you can get them from 2 feet up to 40 feet. My sweet spot is about 25 feet.”
The reward, he says, is eating the shellfish raw, sliced thin with soy and ginger.
Di Fede’s lifelong relationship with water helped to guide him as a chef. “When I first started cooking at Bouchon restaurant, I realized it was sink or swim; luckily, I love to swim,” he says.
That kind of discipline is in play now; Di Fede is charged about the restaurant.
“If you don’t have discipline then both will be so much harder,” he says of his new venture and his fundraising swim.
Curtis Di Fedeis also part of Simple Feast, an app the hosts an amazing community of Chefs and their delicious recipes. To view more recipes by Curtisand other incredible Chefs go to Simple Feast.