True to his roots
July/August 2015 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Barbara Arciero
Photos by Matt Salvo
Rich traditions and quality ingredients inspire chef's menus
Rocky Maselli was a teenager when he realized he wanted to be a chef.
Rocky Maselli is working his dream job—one that connects his agricultural roots, Italian heritage and proximity to some of the world's most productive farmland.
"Italian cooking is very simple. It's all about technique: starting with really good ingredients and putting them together so you actually taste each ingredient on the plate," said Maselli, executive chef of A16 in San Francisco and A16 Rockridge in Oakland.
The restaurants are named for the highway that stretches from Naples to Canosa in the Puglia region of Southern Italy. A third-generation Italian-American, Maselli specializes in fare such as seafood, pasta and Neapolitan-style pizza that merges the region's culinary traditions with the bountiful offerings of Northern California.
"The California climate is perfect for Southern Italian cuisine because we have access to many, if not all, of the same ingredients that grow here seasonally," he said, mentioning almonds, olives, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons, among others.
Maselli grew up in a food-oriented family. His paternal great-grandfather—an immigrant from Puglia—established an olive and olive oil business in Tulare County at the turn of the 20th century. Around the same time, his maternal great-grandparents began growing winegrapes in Sonoma County. Although he grew up primarily in Northern California, Maselli spent several formative years on a British Columbia island where his parents operated a marina and restaurant.
"I grew up from 10 to almost 15 working with my mother in the restaurant kitchen. I think that was the reason I got into what I do now," he said. "I feel lucky that I love what I do."