Although chef "La Fufi" Fulvia Steffenone has only been in Tucson for five years, her culinary roots run deep in Italy.
Steffone worked in accounting when she realized her passion was with cooking. She trained in Turin and with various chefs before training under Michelin-starred, world-renowned chef Gualtiero Marchesi.
In 1998, Steffenone founded her haute cuisine school, "La Fufi," attracting students from all over Italy and abroad. Her resume expanded with several books and food journals under her belt. In 1999, she hosted a television show, La Vecchia Fattoria.
Fast forward to late 2013 and Steffenone moved to Tucson with her husband Alfredo, purchasing Caffe Milano from previous owners Carlo and Laura Borella.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
My first teacher of cooking in Turin, Italy was Maria Gabriella Fogli — a brilliant person, even if with a very difficult character. She taught me to completely replace the butter and cream with extra virgin olive oil — for me it was a revelation. Every dish prepared using only oil — including pastry — changes the taste and acquires an incomparable lightness.
2) What are you eating these days?
I am an extremely busy woman, so I need fast, nourishing-but-light dishes. Salads, risotto, and fruit are among my favorites.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Maybe a pasta when I was a child. It is very likely that it was terrible, with little salt and overcooked, but my mother encouraged me by saying that it was very good.
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
These days, my husband and I are trying out some new recipes for the restaurant's winter menu. Alfredo, my husband, is a passionate and profound connoisseur of molecular cuisine, while I am much more tied to tradition. It is not said that they will end up on the menu, but we are trying strange and fascinating things, like basil sponges, salty ice creams, Parmigiano foam, and many other things.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
My friend Dee, chef of Senae Thai Bistro, with whom we share many ideals.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
I [miss] the restaurants on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, where I could eat freshly-caught fish, cooked quickly on coals and drizzled with a little oil. Wonderful and extremely simple flavors that here in the United States I have not yet found.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I try to avoid junk food, and all my activity is aimed at avoiding this food that I consider uneducative and dangerous for health. Sometimes, when I receive friends at my house, I offer an aperitif with pre-packaged chips at the beginning of the dinner.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
I do not have much time to go to restaurants, but if I want a pizza similar to the Italian one, I find it by Fiamme Pizza. I find Wildflower's style interesting. For Asian cuisine, naturally, Senae.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
On the last day of my life, I think I would like to eat something simple and connected to the Italian tradition. Maybe spaghetti with clams, but I would like the real Italian clams — we call them telline — because they are small and very tasty, seasoned with a drizzle of Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. Good enough to die for.
Catch “La Fufi” Fulvia Steffenone at Caffe Milano, 46 W. Congress St. For more information, visit lafuficaffemilano.com.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...