This summer brought the introduction of two new Italian kitchens in Savannah. One by regionally prominent chef Hugh Acheson, The Florence, and one from locally popular chef Roberto Leoci, Pacci. Executive Chef Leoci works alongside General Manager Ruth White. Together they have introduced downtown Savannah diners to the use of local and seasonal ingredients in traditional Italian recipes and techniques.
We had a chance to sit down with the two to discuss what inspires them, their involvement with Canyon Ranch Institute's Healthy Garden, Japanese Mandolins, and the Punch Drunk Brunch.
Leoci also shared his recipe for Seafood Risotto. Check out the recipe and image gallery below.
Drop by their beautiful space in the Brice Hotel and see what these two are bringing to Bay Street.
Hams + Yams Can you tell me more about your involvement with Canyon Ranch Institute’s Healthy Garden?
Ruth White We got involved with CRI this past spring after I went to the kick off lunch at The Morris Center. I was struck by how they look at health holistically from a physical, mental and spiritual circle. That spoke to me as that is how Kimpton also looks at health and employee happiness! It seemed the perfect fit. We are working with them in a variety of formats. Chef is also going to do a healthy cooking demonstration!
Roberto Leoci We source all of our opal basil and heirloom eggplant from Canyon Ranch at Pacci. They are planting brussels sprouts and collard greens for us this fall.
H+Y What is your favorite kitchen tool?
RL The Japanese Mandolin, it shaves vegetables into perfect angel hair shreds.
RW Mine is definitely the Vitamix
H+Y If not at Pacci, where would I find you late night?
RW I would probably be at Abe's on Lincoln with an IPA or at home on my patio with a really good song or book and a negroni.
RL At Leoci’s Trattoria! I love my restaurants and my staff is like family to me. I just can’t stay away from work!
H+Y Which ingredients, people, or places are inspiring you at the moment?
RL I love everything that comes from the sea, and my dream is to spend some time in Japan learning from a great sushi master.
RW Right now, my team is inspiring me! All of the hard work and love they put into Pacci is inspirational. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to tearing up once a day, still! I am headed to Southern Italy in the Fall, so definitely the coast of Italy.
H+Y What does the immediate future hold for Pacci?
RL At Pacci my goal is to keep putting out delicious farm-to-table Italian food, and to start giving some informative classes for our customers where they can learn to cook my food and meet the farmers I work with regularly.
RW You have got to come check out our Wednesday Night Supper Club and Punch Drunk Brunch! Also, there is a secret website hidden on the Pacci website. I cannot talk about it but take a peep and keep the secret!
H+Y As far as available ingredients, what season gets you excited the most?
RL Fall is my favorite! Butternut Squash Ravioli with Amaretto tossed in a butter sage sauce is hands down my favorite pasta.
H+Y What region of Italy do you derive most of your menu’s influence from?
RL My menus reflect my heritage. My family is from Bari and Sicily, Italy. I also incorporate the soul of the South in my cooking, too. The marriage of these two makes me think of family and friends.
H+Y Talk about your most memorable food experience.
RL I had the honor to be a part of the legendary chef Alain Ducasse’s tribute dinner at South Beach Food & Wine Festival last year, which was definitely a highlight of my career and fuel for my passion!
Chef Roberto Leoci's Seafood Risotto
About: Sautéed Clams, Mussels and Shrimp with a Creamy Risotto accompanied by a Seafood Broth
2 cups Arborio Rice
10 Fresh Clams
10 Georgia Shrimp (cleaned and de-veined)
6 cups Clam Juice
1 Vidalia Onion
3 tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbs Unsalted Butter
3 tbs Chopped Herbs (Sage, Rosemary, Thyme)
1 clove Garlic
1 cup White Wine
ó cups Diced Tomatoes
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Risotto Base Directions:
In a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, add oil and place halved onion at bottom of pan. Flavor the oil for about 6 minutes, then remove onion. Add rice and lightly toast, stirring for 3 minutes. Add ½ cup white wine, stir for 1 minute. Start adding broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1 cup at a time until you reach 5 cups total, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next. Cook until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 15-18 minutes.
In a saucepan, add olive oil and heat to just before smoking. Add clams first, simmer for about 5 min, then add mussels, simmer for about 4 min, then shrimp, simmer for 1 min. Add ½ cup white wine simmer for 2 min. Finish by adding minced garlic, 1 cup clam juice, herbs, diced tomato then butter and simmer for 5 min. Scoop on top of risotto.
*Make sure all clams and mussels have opened. If not, discard before eating.