September Chef of the Month: Chef Leo Maurelli III of Ariccia Trattoria

Name: Chef Leo Maurelli

Name of Restaurants: Ariccia Trattoria in Auburn, AL

Restaurant Phone Number: 334-844-5140

Where were you born and raised?

Colon City, Republic of Panama.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother’s on both sides, my mom, aunts, sisters, and family.

What others jobs have you worked within the food industry?

I’ve been in a kitchen since I was able to walk. I have been working in restaurants since I was 14, so 24 years. I have held every position there is to do in the back of the house, from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook. I worked in food sales for several years for U.S. Foods. I have also worked in front of the house; server, busboy, restaurant manager.

Why do you believe your restaurant is one of the best in the state?

We carefully and thoughtfully think about the food we create. We cook with the seasons and with Alabama product. We believe in exploring and creating foods that are equally steeped in history and are uniquely our own. The importance of simplicity is evident in everything we do — my personal philosophy is that simple is not thoughtless, it requires skill and knowing your ingredients so you don’t have to over-manipulate them. Simple is not tasteless or boring, it is allowing food and ingredients the ability to shine.

Who is the most notable person you’ve ever cooked for?

I’ve cooked at the United Nations twice, I’ve cooked for award-winning chefs, wine makers, sports stars, artists — both screen and recording. I’ve cooked for prominent politicians, I’ve cooked at events all over the country and with amazing chefs and for amazing chefs. But honestly to me, it would be my mother. Being able to cook for her and my father and totally showcase who I am now as a chef is the most rewarding experience.

What’s your favorite seafood dish to serve up for yourself and your family?

Without a doubt it would be ceviche. I love making royal red shrimp ceviche, lionfish ceviche, snapper and mahi mahi. I am from the Republic of Panama and my father is Italian, so fresh Alabama seafood is a must for me.

If you could cook for with any celebrity of historical figure, who would it be?

I was asked this question years ago and, funny, I haven’t thought about it since. It strikes me as interesting, that who I said I wanted to cook for then, is not the same today! Honestly, I would love to cook for Georgia O’Keefe, Salvador Dali, or Michelangelo would be incredible. And my grandfathers, of course.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Having fun with my son. Walking nature trails, hiking. I love comic books, great music, and I like to read quite a bit. Experiencing great food. Anything and everything Star Wars — I have a pretty sizable collection of action figures. N-E-R-D!

If you weren’t a chef, what line of work would you pursue?

The arts— writing, painting, drawing, teaching.

What makes Alabama Gulf Seafood special?

The quality is amazing. We see some of the best product out there and have the ability to partner with incredible fishmongers who stand by their work. The ability to be able to call my fish guy on the phone and know that I will be receiving only the freshest caught and top-quality seafood allows me the liberty to truly expand my cooking styles. I don’t think without this we would be able to produce the food we do every day.