Chow Town

Chef Gina Stipo brings Ecco La Cucina to Kansas City

Fresh asparagus and Ricotta ravioli
Fresh asparagus and Ricotta ravioli Special to The Star

Kansas City has become a “hot spot” for guest chefs and food artisans the past three to four years.

Buddy Valastro, Ferran Adrià, Dario Cecchini, John Besh, Rachael Ray, Roberto Donna, Bryan Voltaggio … The list is endless and I can go along for five more paragraphs to be honest with you.

This past week another chef passed through Kansas City with a certain Tuscan flare that was enjoyed by guests at my restaurant, Jasper’s, and also at A Thyme For Everything in Lee’s Summit.

Gina Stipo is an Italian-American chef whose enthusiasm for the cuisine of Tuscany inspired her to make Siena, Italy, the base for her culinary passion.

Gina grew up in the Italian family and was classically trained in the culinary arts at Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

For the past 10 years, Gina set up base in Italy and became very connected to the foods that they eat and the wines that they drink. She became spoiled with the freshest of ingredients in preparing classic Tuscan dishes in teaching and tutoring groups from the United States.

Gina wrote two cookbooks while living in Siena and also was very involved with the Palio horse race each year. Her cooking classes are accompanied by the history and anecdotes of the Siena area.

Gina has moved back to the U.S and is now living in Louisville, Ky., where is she is planning on setting up a cooking school and dining area.

In Italian, Ecco La Cucina means “Here’s the Kitchen.” Gina explores all the aspects of the Italian table. True to the Italian way of eating, her menus are focused on fresh seasonal produce and quality local ingredients.

Gina arrived in the kitchen at Jasper’s Ristorante with her pasta machine attachments, a nice chunk of pancetta from a friend curing his own in Virginia, some great Tuscan olive oil, fresh duck eggs for her ravioli and her own herbs and spices, including the sought-after fennel pollen for her famous porchetta.

Gina was no stranger to my kitchen, and my team had worked with her before so they were well prepared. Her sister, Mary Stipo Potter, her coordinator and tour guide director, accompanied her and immediately they begin making fresh pasta.

It was 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and dinner preparation was just starting to begin with my chefs but believe me, all eyes were on Gina.

Gina’s technique for pasta making is very similar to my own but believe me when I tell you, she has it down to a fine science. We have many mutual friends in the industry and one in particular, Odette Fada, was Gina’s inspiration.

Fada commanded the kitchen of the venerable San Dominico in New York City. As Gina made the pasta dough, her sister Mary cleaned snap peas, asparagus, fava beans and spring onions for the vegetable dish to be served alongside the porchetta.

After the golden pasta dough prepared with duck eggs had rested in the refrigerator for one hour, Gina and Mary both begin to roll the dough out and prepare the fresh asparagus and Ricotta ravioli. Two hours later and after more than 250 ravioli, the task was done, but I will have to say, it was picture perfect.

Gina, alongside my chef Marvin Lewis, rubbed three fresh pork bellies and tenderloins with rosemary, garlic, sage and a sea salt mixture, drizzled with olive oil, rolled, tied and placed in the oven for the rest of the afternoon to slow cook for our dinner.

My pastry chef William King prepared crêpes.

There was no time to rest as we had to prepare the antipasta of fresh pulled Burrata cheese, artisan salumi, Sicilian olives and two cases of peeled and quartered artichokes that Gina would prepare a unique batter for and fry in olive oil. Wow, so crispy and fresh.

Dinner time was fast approaching and not only did I have to deal with a sold-out dining room, I also had a sold-out Indian Creek Terrace room filled with guests and fans awaiting Gina’s arrival.

While my servers started to offer the antipasti, I introduced Gina to the crowd. She welcomed the guest, but also started to discuss her career, Tuscan travels and dinner menu.

Gina came back in the kitchen and for the next three courses, worked alongside my team of chefs.

When I tell you the ravioli cushions filled with ricotta and asparagus were light as air, that is no exaggeration. The perfect amount of butter and fresh thyme were added at the end for an oh-so-delicious sauce.

The porchetta was served with the fresh spring vegetables and fava beans. The cracklings from the pork belly were outstanding, and no words can describe the fresh rosemary on the bottom of the pan that was slow roasted. I ate it like potato chips.

As for the dessert, who doesn’t care for Nutella? The combination of orange and serving of the hazelnut and chocolate crema in a folded crepe, perfectly crisp and swimming in the orange liqueur sauce.

At the end of the dinner, Gina autographed her cookbooks and everyone agreed, this may have been one of our best experiences at the restaurant.

I have had numerous guests chefs visit my restaurant but Gina is at the top of the list. Never have I received so many compliments on the dinner, especially the ravioli and porchetta.

In conversations with Gina over the weekend, you can tell she has a passion and love of Italy and especially her former Tuscan home in Siena. This is one chef who decided that she would take a chance and move to Italy and live “la dolce vita.”

Along the way she inherited a special love of the food that easily shines in her cooking. She took a chance and excelled to culinary greatness.

As my favorite author Frances Mayes once said, “Life offers you a thousand chances … All you have to do is take one.”

No doubt, Gina Stipo took a chance and went to Siena, Italy. But wow, just look what she brought back. Visit Gina at www.eccolacucina.com.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.

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