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Monday, August 3, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Vittorio Assaf of Serafina

Vittorio Assaf grew up in Milan where he was awarded a degree in Political Science, and he also studied Law at the University of Urbino. Vittorio spent eight years on the floor of Milan’s Stock Exchange before moving on to pursue an opportunity in fashion with the company that created the image for the brand Gianfranco Ferre. He was responsible for the marketing and public relations in the merchandising division of the group. He came to New York in 1985 with the seeds of ideas that have grown into a string of flourishing businesses. He works tirelessly and with undiminished enthusiasm for all his projects, always brewing up another even as he completes each venture.

Mr. Assaf opened his first restaurant, Café Condotti on 58th St. and Madison Avenue in 1985, with original paintings by Andy Warhol, and a regular stop for Warhol and his circle, Café Condotti was one of New York’s hot spots. The restaurant was located directly below the first Portofino Sun Center, which is one of Mr. Assaf’s other business ventures established in 1985.

Mr. Assaf’s partnership with Fabio Granato happened by chance in 1994 when the two friends found themselves lost at sea and agreed to open a restaurant if they survived the ordeal. Shortly thereafter, they were rescued by the Coast Guard and a few months later they fulfilled their promise by launching Serafina Fabulous Pizza on 79th and Madison.

Following the success of Serafina Fabulous Pizza, the two partners have gone on to open Serafina Fabulous Grill, Serafina Osteria, Serafina at The Time Hotel and Serafina Broadway. Frequented by celebrities, businessmen, families and tourists, each location features the highest quality food set in an exciting atmosphere. For those who want to savor the taste at home, Serafina’s Pasta Sauce comes in four varieties and is available in grocery stores throughout the U.S.

Expanding their culinary horizons beyond their Italian heritage, they teamed up with one of Vittorio’s best friends, Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert, to create Geisha, an immensely popular Japanese fusion destination on the Upper East Side. In 2008, they opened Brasserie Cognac in the Theater District where Chef Florian Hugo, a great-great-great grandson of poet Victor Hugo, serves fine French cuisine. Most recently, the two embarked on a Mexican adventure by creating Mañana with the help of Chef Omar Luna and Mama Enriqueta Mendez from Mexico City.

Mr. Assaf’s culture, sense of style, and passion for food is the heart of all menu creations for all the restaurants of the Serafina Restaurant Group. We are pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Vittorio Assaf for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How would you compare working on Milan's stock exchange with what you do at Serafina?
Vittorio Assaf: Much better at Serafina, much more fun! I love the contact with the people instead of the sterile contact with numbers.

Did you know Andy Warhol and if so what was he like?
Yes, Andy was a charismatic person. Were were involved together in Café Condotti in 1985, my first restaurant in NYC. I always had his paintings hanging on the walls and he kept changing them all the time, they were all about food and sexy. Women squeezing grapes, the lips of a woman drinking juice, this is a painting that I will never be able to forget.

What is your favorite dish to create and why?
Pasta because I’m Italian and pasta has an explosion of flavors. Girls love pasta, and pasta can be sexy.

What is the most popular dish at Serafina?
Depends on the category, but some of the popular dishes are Gnocchi with cherry tomato, Branzino encased in Sicilian salt and baked, potato wrapped filet of bass al Pinot Grigio, Lobster Carpaccio, La Focaccia Di Sofia al Tartufo d’Alba and Tiramisu for dessert.

What would most Manhattanites not realize about the pros and cons of being in the Manhattan restaurant business?
Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to be a restaurateur. The financial risks of being a restaurateur is challenging. The pro is that most people don’t realize how much you have to eat.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My grandmother because she taught me how to cook, and my friend Eric Ripert because during the realization of Geisha, he taught me that another level of cuisine exists.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
My restaurants or at home with my family.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Paragon, I love sports.

What is your favorite drink?
It used to be chilled Tequila shots with lime, but now I discovered that we have the most incredible mixologist at Geisha, a French guy called Cedric Hosy.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Brasserie Cognac. I love to disappear in Cognac, we have the most delicious French food from our chef Florian Hugo.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Stefano Spadoni is an Italian journalist who wrote a great book about New York City.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
The opening of Studio 54, the party of Valentino. I was 18 and I will never forget it. There was a bridge on fire moving above the heads of the people.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Disappear into a museum. When the level of stress reaches the limit, I vanish to a museum like MOMA.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
A few months ago I went to see the Jersey Boys and I sat next to Rod Stewart and we danced for 2 hours in our seats.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
The most overrated is Tavern on the Green and the most underrated is the world of art, it should play a much more prominent function in our life. We should enjoy so much more the incredible possibilities we have when we live with art in this city, the ballet museums, galleries, opera…

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Tasty Tidbits for the restaurant listings.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Facebook: Serafina Gruppo

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