Alfredo Di Lelio
The name does not sound familiar to you? Chances are you do know his name, and once you start to learn about his story you will wish you knew him. The pictures alone of this guy are hysterical.
Alfredo is THE Fettuccini Alfredo and today, February 7th, is Fettuccini Alfredo Day!
The dish is one of the oldest and simplest ways to prepare pasta, tossing with Parmesan cheese and butter. As the cheese melts into the warm butter, it creates a thick, beautiful, and delicious sauce. Note that I did not mention cream. Cream is an American addition to the traditional Italian dish. Rarely will you find a cream based "Alfredo" dish in Italy, and chances are if you happen to find the dish on a menu it goes by fettuccini al triplo burro. Unlike in other places around the world, this dish is not popular in Italy.
The first reference to the classic pasta dish was in the 15-century northern Italian cookbook, Lebro de Arte Coquinaria, written by Martino da Como. Which makes perfect sense considering Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese hails from the northern provinces.
The naming of this dish started in 1908 in a trattoria in Rome owned by Alfredo's mother, Angelina. According to lore, Alfredo worked at his mother's trattoria during the time his wife, Ines, had given birth to their first child Armando. Ines's health was declining from the stress of childbirth and had become weak from not eating. What could Alfredo do; other than pray to St. Anna the patron saint of pregnant woman? With his own hands and worried heart, Alfredo served Ines a dish of flat noodles mixed with butter and fresh Parmesan. Ines devoured the dish her husband lovingly made, regained her strength, and suggested that Alfredo include the dish at the restaurant. The dish became an instant success.
Alfredo later opened his own restaurant "Alfredo" in 1914 in central Rome and named the dish "maestosissime fettuccine all'Alfredo" (loose translation : most majestic fettuccini, Alfredo style). Not only was the dish delicious, Alfredo served it in a style he considered "reminiscent of a grand opera". Alfredo, with his wild mustache and larger than life personality, served the meal tableside. But this was not any tableside serving, it was a theatrical display. Picture this. Alfredo, with his pinkies in the air and arms flailing, would toss the pasta with plenty of butter and cheese. Bending over the dish using gold cutlery, with his eyes half closed, almost like he was unaware that anyone else was in the room, the cheers would become louder and louder. Alfredo's ceremony would crescendo when he grabbled a huge hunk of fettuccini by hand and pretend to jam the food into the patron's mouth. Riding on the fame of his namesake dish, the news of the restaurant spread around the world. The restaurant was a success. Patrons, including celebrities and politicians, would go to the restaurant, armed with a camera, ready to get that special photo of Alfredo. The famous gold engraved cutlery that Afredo used as part of his act was a gift from Hollywood Royalty. In 1927, American silent screen actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks dined in Alfredo's restaurant during their honeymoon in Rome, and so enjoyed their evening. As a sign of their gratitude for Alfredo's hospitality, the power couple provided the golden cutlery, engraved with "To Alfredo the King of the Noodles".
After decades of showmanship, Alfredo retired in 1943, during the height of World War II. He sold his beloved restaurant to two of his waiters. Like any good actor, it is hard to stay away from the theater lights. In 1950, Alfredo opened a new restaurant, in Rome with the son that started it all, Armando. Il Vero Alfredo (Alfredo of Rome) still remains, and is under the care of the grandson Alfredo and granddaughter Ines.