Monday, June 17, 2024

Chefs of Ammatolí, La Parolaccia vying for best chef in California at James Beard Awards

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Following the announcement that Gusto Bread is a semifinalist for Outstanding Bakery, the James Beard Awards—the nation’s most prestigious food honors—have put forth Chef Dima Habibeh of Ammatolí and Chefs Stefano and Michael Procaccini of La Parolaccia as semifinalists for Best Chef in California.

The chef categories are broken up geographically, with California having a category to its own, where finalist nominations will be announced on April 3.

Ammatolí continues to score honors across the board

“I am grateful and honored to be nominated in the James Beard Award semifinals as the best chef in California,” Habibeh said. “I am so humbled to be among these amazing chefs representing our heritage, rich culture, the flavors of Levantine cuisine, and our wonderful community of Long Beach.”

Ammatolí opened quietly in 2018, nestled between an architectural firm and a fast-casual burger chain, the latter of which has disappeared and become an extension of Chef Dima’s space. The restaurant had a guiding principle from the start: to serve Levantine food that refused to be limited to one particular country. Rather, Ammatolí speaks to its owner’s diasporic background and to the richness of the Levant and the wider region, with menu nods to Jordan, Palestine, Syria…

Her ascent into what Los Angeles Times food critic Bill Addison calls “the consummate classical Levantine cooking of Southern California”—something which has scored her a coveted spot on the critic’s 101 best restaurants list—has proven beautiful to watch.

Ammatolí is ultimately Chef Dima’s love letter from Jordan to Long Beach by way of the mighty Levantine cuisine, where she has taken gastronomical cues from the heart of the Levant—Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon…—and put them on beautiful display since 2018. Expanding her footprint in 2022, Ammatolí has evolved into one of our finest, where traditional, beautiful plates of Palestinian musakhan and sayadyieh are next to Chef Dima’s ever growing variety of in-house baked goods.

La Parolaccia’s recognition is one that is long overdue

I once called La Parolaccia the “mother of Mother Wolf”—Chef Evan Funke’s still-hot restaurant dedicated to the food of Rome—and I still stand by that.

In 2004, Stefano Procaccini, a Rome native who had brought his family to the shores of Long Beach, knew he wanted to offer the Bluff Heights neighborhood something rather simple: a taste of Rome — and a taste of Rome proper. And the spot where he decided to do it was a storefront nestled between what was a salon and an intercontinental restaurant by the name of House of Madame JoJo. La Parolaccia was born.

On the menu, he intentionally highlighted distinctly Roman dishes, from honoring of the Roman mother pastas—amatriciana, carbonara, cacio e pepe…—to plates like carciofini dorati (fried artichokes) and involtini di melanzane (roulades of eggplant with house-made ricotta). This only led his son, Michael, onto a pathway of becoming the restaurant’s pizzaiolo master when they had an Italian wood-burning oven shipped in 2010.

Having first dusted his hands with flour as a kid while making pasta at La Parolaccia, Michael has long been in the deep waters of carby Italian standbys: He can now be spotted making trays of focaccia, filling plastic tubs with dough rounds, and manning a wood-fired oven that reaches over 900 degrees.

He has since proven to be one of the city’s most consistent, talented pizzaiolos, one that has garnered him the title of instructor at the Sede Nazionale della Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Parma, where he studied.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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