Califonia Bountiful

All in the family

November/December 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Relationships add depth to chef's role

Chef John Paolone's roots can be traced to Abruzzo, Italy. The recipes he shares here are ones he often prepares at home for family and friends. Photo: © 2017 Tony Pinto

Three words permeate the conversation: family, friends and food—actually more than three, if you add farmers and farm employees.

These are the things that fuel John Paolone's passion.

"The restaurant industry for me is family. Our customers are like family. Our employees are family too," said Paolone, executive chef of Café Firenze in Moorpark and partner in an expanding, multistate restaurant business. "But at the same time, the people who own the farms, who work on the farms, that's our relationship as well."

As testimony, Paolone joins other Ventura County chefs each summer in serving a family-style dinner to about 250 guests at a local farm. Together, they celebrate the contributions of farm employees and raise funds for a nonprofit that supports safe and affordable housing for them.

He credits his close-knit Italian family and time on his grandparents' farm—they emigrated from Italy to Canada during World War II—with fostering his interest in food.

"They grew a lot of produce and raised animals," said Paolone, who fondly recalls summers spent in Canada: "We cooked, we worked on the farm, we learned it, we enjoyed it."

And that easily translates to his career.

"What I love most is the reaction of guests when they eat the food and the interaction I have with them," he said. "I've made so many friends out of meeting people at the restaurant. I don't feel like it's a job. It's amazing."

Barbara Arciero


Pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin

Arugula salad with frisée, toasted pine nuts, pecorino cheese and citrus segments

Roasted cauliflower with pepperoncini, chickpeas and basil

Duck and butternut squash risotto with sage and pomegranate

Nutella semifreddo 

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