An interview with chef Domenica Macchia about leaving Diner 437 for Bella Brava

When they [Bella Brava] approached me I nearly fell on the floor -- these four guys and me in the back of The Table, like some bad Italian spaghetti western,  talking about the  food.  I tried to get a job there after Redwoods, with my little letter from Daniel Boulod.

I'm at the point in my career where I don't need doubles all week, I don't want to work that hard and lose my house. I'm 45, I'm at the point where I should tell people what to do. I'm looking for my Danny Myers.

I got other calls as well. [Bella Brava co-owner] Mike Harting, I love him, he's just as high strung as I am. We're going to kill each other, in a good way.

I asked people about Bella Brava and they said "we used to go there." I'm hoping people want what I think Italian food should be, or the food I was raised on. That's my one in.

On changes she plans to make at Bella Brava:

I want it all. I don't want any part of the outside or the decor, but I want all the food to change. They're not Italian anymore, at least it's not the way my mother cooked. The atmosphere is hip, they've spared no expense, probably the best looking place on Central. I want to do really cool food that's affordable, I want to cap it at $18.

I want it to be regional. I keep thinking of that Molto Mario show -- regional Italian, earthy and ethnic. We don't have that here.  The stuff I grew up on is probably the tastiest things I've eaten, no one knows how to do that. I hate pine nuts and raisins because my Sicilian family stuck them in everything, but I'll stick them back in food for the cutomers.

There will be whole fish and whole chickens. I'll pull out the bread service, do parmesan popcorn. Rabbit on fresh pappardelle.

I don't want to do a gradual thing, I would rather open up with a new menu, maybe small to start. I better take a closer look at their menu, there may be good stuff on there. I'll just put my name on it.

She's excited about the modern kitchen at Bella Brava:

I can't wait to get my hands on that wood oven -- I'll probably burn myself really badly the first day. I don't have any idea what some of the stuff does in that kitchen.

Here I have a feeling there will be lots of people doing lots of things, they probably wont even know I'm there. "Ive been here for hours, can someone show me how to use this pasta machine?"

On her future:

I always thought that if I had money I'd retire in Tuscany. I'll probably just die in an Italian restaurant, over the pasta machine.

Final thoughts?:

I love when the order comes in, it's the best part of what I do. I'd rather have an assistant -- to do the scheduling and paperwork -- than a sous chef. I want to be on the line. If you're paying for food, we owe it to you.

I hope I sound excited, even though I'm not really awake.

I think it would be difficult for you not to sound excited.

Domenica Macchia is on the move. Again. This week, my favorite fast-talking, passionate chef will take over the kitchen at Bella Brava, replacing outgoing chef  Trevor Lyman at the modern Italian restaurant on downtown St. Pete's Central Avenue.

New Bella Brava co-owner Mike Harting (fresh from a long career with Outback Steakhouse), started looking for a new chef a couple of months ago. Macchia — who's first generation Italian, and tried to get a job at Bella Brava in the restaurant's early days — was the right fit. She left Diner 437 this past weekend, after opening the gastro-diner to pretty much universal local acclaim a few months back.

So, of course, I woke her up this morning to get her thoughts. She's worried about people thinking she's switching jobs too much, and doesn't want to say anything bad about her previous employers, but most of all she's happy. Excited. Even groggy from sleep, talking to Macchia is like talking to a culinary machine-gun:

Why'd you leave Diner 437?

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