Couple creates Marcellino Ristorante’s ambiance through food, music

Chef Marcellino Verzino and wife, Sima, bring The Old Country to their Italian restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. (Submitted photos)

As spring approaches, Chef Marcellino Verzino and his wife, Sima, have a lot of preparing to do to mix business with pleasure at Marcellino Ristorante.

They combine their passions for cooking and singing, all while telling a story at the restaurant located in Old Town Scottsdale.

Marcellino Ristorante interior

While Mr. Verzino  has been cooking since his youth, his wife has been singing since her childhood. When he is not hand-picking ingredients from the garden, he cooks hearty fare for diners and tells his story that follows him from the Old Country to Old Town.

As the chef performs his culinary craft, Mrs. Verzino shows off her own proclivity for singing. She and her All Star Trio perform at the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.

The restaurant also has live music Saturday nights, says the accomplished singer during a recent interview, noting Saturday evenings feature a mix of Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and classic swing performers.

Mrs. Verzino said spring brings a renewed energy to their Italian restaurant. They plan to serve new cooking classes, a Heritage Dinner, live music and more.

“Chef Marcellino loves this season because he loves to garden,” said Mrs. Verzino in a prepared statement. “Spending time in his garden at home helps him get creative in the kitchen. We even have a small garden outside of the restaurant full of herbs, such as mint for dressings and special cocktails, and rosemary for pasta infusions and garnish.”

While her chef husband was busy preparing meals, she described the unique experience at the Italian restaurant.

“There’s something magical about springtime. And for Italians, the season has many traditions associated with it. At Marcellino Ristorante, spring brings an abundance of fresh, authentic Italian food combined with regional wines and liquors.

“Like the streets of an Italian town, the Southbridge section of Old Town Scottsdale is bustling with activity, as the weather warms up, making Marcellino Ristorante the perfect venue for lunch or dinner inside the fine dining restaurant or on the quaint outside patio.”

She said large crowds are accommodated during spring training while they dine at the Chef’s Island, a U-shaped seating around a wood-fired oven where Mr. Verzino creates authentic Italian cuisine.

Marcellino Ristorante Chefs Island

The Chef’s Island is reserved for special, multi-course wine dinners and, once a year, for Chef’s Heritage Dinner Series, which was first presented at the James Beard House in New York City in October 2017, she noted.

Patrons can hear Mr. Verzino  sharing his childhood memories of growing up in the Campania region of Italy during Heritage Dinner III, beginning 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2 while partaking of stories and a full-course meal paired with regional wines from Italy.

“Our Heritage Dinner is truly a unique experience. Throughout the evening, Chef Marcellino will share stories from his childhood and describe his inspiration behind each dinner course served. It’s a rare chance to hear what fuels his culinary passion. Watching him in action is like experiencing a culinary symphony,” Mrs. Verzino said.

After the chef offers cooking classes through June, the two head to Italy in July and August, where she is scheduled to perform.

The couple lives in Italy during those months every summer.

“Being invited to perform at the world-famous Teatro Marcello in Rome, Italy has been the most humbling of all. The preparation consists of choosing sophisticated, elegant songs from my vast repertoire that best exemplifies my voice and stage presence. I’ll be arriving in Rome three days prior to rehearse with hand-picked musicians who will be backing me up for this performance,” Mrs. Verzino said.

Although the restaurant has been open for more than 15 years, Mr. Verzino and his sous chef have worked together for 20 years since they worked in New York City.

He entrusts his kitchen to the sous chef and his second in command while he and his wife are in Italy.

“They are both an extension of Chef’s cuisine to perfection,” Mrs. Verzino said.

Mrs. Verzino not only detailed the restaurant’s cuisine and atmosphere, but answered more questions about their flavorful lives below.

Where do you reside?
We live in a beautiful villa, like home, in Moon Valley. Its architecture and geographic positioning, as our home buttes up to the mountain, reminds us of our country home in rural Italy where Chef was born. He built his enclosed, raised 30-foot-long garden behind the house where he spends a minimum of an hour each morning tending. It’s his “therapy.”

Where are you originally from?
I was born and schooled in New York City and then moved to Rome, Italy in my twenties for my singing career. Chef Marcellino was born in Reino, Benevento Italy in the Campania region, and then he moved to New York City in 1996 with me.

What does the family consist of, ie: kids, pets, etc.?
Our immediate family consists of ourselves and our two canine fur babies, Garibaldi and Cleopatra.

Why was the idea to have cooking classes at the venue important?
The answer is twofold: First, we want to share with others the beauty, freshness and authenticity of Chef Marcellino’s exclusively hand-crafted cuisine.

Second, connection to people is very important to us, and the cooking classes give participants a chance to watch and learn some of Chef’s culinary secrets and to get to know him in a more intimate and friendly setting. Chef teaches others the importance of fresh ingredients and how to use them.

How long have you been singing?
As far back as I can remember: first in children’s, then adult theatre groups, and then moving on as a soloist with top New York City orchestras, as a recording artist living in Rome and touring in Europe, and recently with my Live All Star Trio here in Scottsdale.

How long has Chef Marcellino been gardening and cooking?
Chef was born into the gardening life on his family’s farm in the Campania region of Italy. His life was the true essence of “farm to table” before that phrase was coined. He began cooking at age 11 for family, 14 for friends, then at age 20, as a personal Chef to socialites in Rome, Italy. His restaurant career began at age 22.

What motivates/inspires the couple?
The vibrancy of life itself. For us, there are no boundaries to what we dream and can accomplish.

What are some of the experiences he will share?
There are many memories Chef has of his father, mother and grandmother as they planned and prepared special dinners, and of certain dishes. He may share the raising of the animals that fed them, the planting and harvesting of fruits and vegetables, the vineyard, olive groves and childhood dishes prepared during various seasons of the year.

He will speak of dishes prepared in the warmer weather at his April Heritage Dinner. In Italy we nourish our bodies with foods grown during the seasons, for that is what is intended for optimum health.

What are your backgrounds in music and cooking?
We were immersed in both music and cooking respectively within our families, as our families were the seeds that sprouted everything within us and eventually who we became.

I grew up in music. My father was a highly-accomplished musician, who played saxophone, sang, wrote arrangements and had his own orchestra. I was given studies in all the art forms of music, dance and voice from age six through 25.

Chef was immersed in the art of Italian cooking as his birthright, and he later stood by his dear friend and award-winning chef, Paolo Preo, in Rome, who taught him to believe in himself and his own creations, yet to always keep the honor and respect of the centuries-old recipes of Italy.

What is the average attendance at the restaurant?
In season, we average between 150-to-200 guests daily, who are all cooked for individually. Nothing is premade and individual sauté pans are used to create cuisine for each guest.

Are reservations required or is there walk-in availability?
In heavy season, we strongly suggest reservations, although at certain times of the evening we can accommodate walk-ins at our warm and friendly bar or at our Chef’s Island where one can dine in front of our cozy wood burning oven.

Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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