Fabiana has been working at Armando al Pantheon, her family’s trattoria, for 11 years now, and she is putting her energy and effort in keeping it up-to-date and to make it better every single day.
I met her yesterday, in the break between lunch and dinner shifts, we sat down together and had a chat about the past, present and future of Armando’s culinary heritage.
What motivates you to work in your family owned restaurant?
I had a very strong relationship with my grandfather Armando, I was particularly close to him and somehow I have always felt comfortable in his trattoria, which has been in the same location for more than 50 years now. I can perfectly remember when I was a kid and I used to come and visit him during the break between lunch and dinner: he would be smoking while playing cards with his friends, very often sipping red wine. Even as a kid, I was fascinated and I’ve always felt I belong here. So when I grew up, I realized there was no other option for me but follow my grandfather’s (and by then his sons’ – my dad and uncle, chef and sommelier respectively) steps and take care of our family gem. My father (Claudio, currently the head chef) discouraged me, he told me it would be tough and challenging, but I had no doubts: I wanted to be part of this.
Which challenges do you face in your professional life?
Being a woman in a mainly male environment is hard – you have to prove every single day you are on top of it. For me in particular, it was (and still is!) difficult to be at the same time daughter, nephew, wife (her husband Mario joined Armando’s team four years ago), mum (her son Adriano just turned three) and a professional maître without loosing credibility. Also, for me work and family are so closely related that there is no real distinction: it’s very easy to lose the balance and end up talking about work during free time. And this is not good for me as a daughter, nephew, wife, mum, woman. This is why when I’m gloomy, or tired or fed up, I just ride my Vespa around Rome old neighbourhoods – this is my way to cut power off and recharge.
Armando al Pantheon has a 50-year history – how do you keep it up-to-date?
I think it’s a question of balance between old & new, tradition and innovation: we work very hard to make sure our returning customers enjoy a different experience every time they come back in a traditional and established setting. My dad [Claudio, the head chef] does research on traditional Roman cuisine and continuously innovates it, without losing touch with our own territory and the seasons’ products. Also, we just renovated the restaurant, improving the air conditioning system and redoing the flooring; at the same time, we kept the wooden wall, the old-fashioned furniture and the paintings our customers have given us as a present since we first opened. Armando is an old restaurant and we want our guests to be able to read our history though the ambience and taste it through our cuisine.
How has the professional figure of the waiter changed in the last years and which are the characteristics you look for when recruiting a new member of your staff?
The waiter is the first person of our team our guests get in contact with, so it is very important to me that they fully represent Armando’s concept. Ideally, they would be caring and attentive, able to read our guests’ mind only by meeting their glare. Then they would be friendly without being intrusive and they need to irradiate positive energy through their smile – when a guest enters Armando they look for a good meal, but they also get some warm atmosphere and a positive vibe – the waiter has to be the one delivering this message. Of course, given we deal with an international audience, they need to be able to speak English, French, ideally Spanish. I don’t mind when they have a strong Roman accent though: after all, this is what our job is about – building Rome awareness through food, location, ambience and, why not, accents.
How (and where) do you see yourself in a five-year time?
I love being here, and I’m still in training, learning new things every day. At a certain point I will feel the urge to try something different: I’m already working on a new project, ‘le Armandine’ [Armando’s gals] together with my two sisters and my cousin. We are the third generation and we want to bring a woman’s touch to an otherwise 100% masculine panorama. At the moment we host special events during which we take care of food & wine by ourselves: it’s hard work, but we get encouraging feedback and we are willing to do more and more. Also, I would like to explore some foreign market, maybe Paris, London, New York – I’m still a little bit concerned about the sourcing of basic ingredients (vegetables, meet, flour), which are at the base of our cuisine. This is something we are not willing to compromise about just to enter another market.
If Rome were a dish, what would it be?
It would probably be a Griscia, as it tells the story of our territory by using guanciale [cheek lard], pecorino cheese and black pepper. It’s simple, unsophisticated, enjoyable, exactly like our beautiful city and its nice inhabitants. As a main dish, it would be coda alla vaccinara, cooked slowly with love, normally according to recipes that are transmitted from one generation to the next one.
For the passion she puts in what she is doing, for the desire of following her grandfather’s steps with her own personal touch, for believing in what she is doing but still listening and learning from more experienced professionals and, last but not least, for a killer pasta with fava beans and guanciale, I’ve decided to give Fabiana the Chiara’s Pick, as a sign of appreciation.
And, as eating is way better than talking, stop by Armando al Pantheon if you happen to be in the neighbourhood! I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Fabiana rappresenta la terza generazione di ristoratori ad occuparsi del gioiello di famiglia, una piccola trattoria nei pressi del Pantheon, a Roma. Le ho chiesto come fa a gestire vita familiare e professionale in un ambiente prettamente maschile, come sceglie il suo team, come si mantiene aggiornata e cosa sogna per il futuro. Mi ha risposto che si trova ad affrontare molte sfide, che non e’ facile essere figlia, moglie, mamma e maitre allo stesso tempo, ma che ha desiderato occuparsi di Armando al Pantheon fin da quando era bambina, l’unico posto in cui si sia sempre sentita a casa.
For the meeting with Fabiana Gargiulo at Armando al Pantheon I was delighted to wear:
White T-shirt: H&M spring & summer collection 2014
Sweat pants: COS
Earrings: designed by Gianni Martinis
‘Feel love’ ring: Carmen Chan
Pinky rose ring: LeiVanKash
The pictures at Armando al Pantheon were taken with my white Sony NEX-5T.
For all the other pictures, special thanks to Fabiana.[map id=”78″]