ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chef Gaetano Ascione came to Albuquerque to bring something to the table not offered before.
“One of the reasons that Albuquerque attracted me was that it is a land of opportunity here because there are a lot of other things that have not been done, and my motto has always been I do not compete, I do complete,” Ascione said. “…I cannot say that everything that has been done in Albuquerque is wrong. They’ve done a lot of good things. There are some other things that maybe they are missing that I can bring to that.”
Ascione brings his experience of running Michelin and Zagat-rated restaurants around the world. He worked for the White House serving Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and managed the Inaugural Banquet for South African president Nelson Mandela, which was a life changing experience. Ascione has proudly hung a photo of him and Mandela at each restaurant he has worked at. It now hangs at Scalo where he serves as executive chef.
Ascione, who was born in Italy, has created a menu for Scalo that is night and day from what was previously offered under past ownership. It is the goal of Ascione to shake things up a bit and awaken the palates of Scalo patrons and open people’s eyes about Albuquerque culinary scene.
“I tell you one thing that should be done in Albuquerque is they should shed the mentality that they are No. 2 to Santa Fe,” he said. “Albuquerque needs to start to wake up and see that we are not second to anybody. Let’s create our own cuisine, let’s create our own style, let’s create something that is indigenous to us… It can be French, Italian, Mexican or New Mexican cuisine.
“I think Albuquerque has to get away from that inferiority complex and the young chefs that are coming around here should get together a little bit more often and create something.”
There are no shortcuts taken when it comes to Ascione’s creations.
“First of all not many people does the demiglace, the veal stock,” he explained. “The basic of all the sauces that you need with any meat in the kitchen. A lot of people buy already made or they buy powder or they buy frozen, and this is one of the basic sauces that is used for any meat from veal to beef to duck. You can use it for everything because it’s a basic sauce. Specifically we use it for the filet and the New York strip. For one, the sauce is made with the bone marrow and the other is a red wine reduction… We do it from scratch.”
Ascione is an admirer of French cuisine and ran Jean Louis Parisian Bistro in Pittsburgh. He also is skilled in other culinary styles.
“Italian and some Asian cooking is very flexible, while the French is very dogmatic,” he said. “You have to follow the rules. While I was in England and South Korea and Singapore and South Africa I had no problem because our cuisine adapted very well with the local weather, product, custom, culture. It’s very easy.”
Ascione wants to share his culinary knowledge with children and adults. He has plans for cooking classes as well as lessons on etiquette. The cooking classes will be limited to five or six people at a time to comply with the state’s health order. They will be hands-on learning experiences where participants will prepare a meal and be educated on each of its ingredients. Children age six and older will learn dining etiquette.
“I would like to start an etiquette class for children because that would teach the kids which fork to use and things we have forgotten about,” Ascione explained. “And the fact that I lived in Asia for so long is very important because in Asia everything is about etiquette… I realized that part of culture also is to how to use a fork and knife and spoon and reach out to the kids. Some of the parents say the kids don’t know what to do, so we’ll start with them and when they grow up they know how set up a table.”
Other plans in store for Scalo include Sunday brunch and possibly bringing back its wine dinners, but with a new approach of having the winemakers or owners of the showcased wineries in attendance. The restaurant recently began offering its “5-5-5-5 Happy Hour” featuring five $5 appetizers such as calamari, burrata, and pork belly, and five $5 drinks including beer, wine and cocktails from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. daily.