I first came to Puglia many years ago when some friends invited me along for a week in the sun-drenched countryside. As a chef in search of myself—I was about to open Charlie Bird, my first restaurant in New York—I relished the opportunity to discover a list of new ingredients, culture, and identity. We ate and drank our way around the sleepy towns, gobbling up bowls of orecchiette with fresh ricotta, platters of ricci di mare, and figs plucked warm from the overgrown trees.
Today, my family and I return to Puglia every summer to continue our siege on Italy’s best seafood. It’s these taste memories of my time on the coast that inspire the menus at my restaurants, which have grown to include Pasquale Jones and Legacy Records. During these sweltering summer days, we meander about the country roads along the rugged coastline, in and out of small towns, forever in search of a cool glass of wine and piping-hot panzerotti. The backcountry paths yield roadside contadini selling their local melon-cucumber barattieri and succulent percoche, a type of peach. There’s just something magical about the steel-green color of the Puglian landscape, covered with 50 million gnarled olive trees and Martian-red clay soil.