Mario Carbone on his best dish, a Cartier Cristallor and Tom Ford – Robb Report
As an Italian-American raised in Queens, Mario Carbone was a foodie almost by default. But, more than eating, it was the theater of restaurants that made him addicted to a culinary career. By spending time at wd~50 and Café Boulud, “my love of food turned into a fascination with restaurants,” he says, describing the ballet between the reception room and the kitchen as “a of magic”. Carbone and his partner, Rich Torrisi, have been making magic every night since 2009, when they opened Torrisi Italian Specialties and made red sauce a hot night. Today, their Major Food Group (MFG) has over 30 restaurants, including Sadelle’s, the Grill and Mario Carbone’s namesake, with outposts around the world.
While the chef remains dedicated to the kitchen, he has become MFG’s chief aesthete, overseeing music, uniforms, table setting and graphic design for all restaurants in the group’s portfolio. Her interest in fashion led to the launch last year of Our Lady of Rocco, a menswear collection inspired by the 80s wardrobes of her father and uncles. He recently moved to Miami to open Sadelle’s latest location and is preparing the next iteration of his magnum opus, Carbone, in Dallas this spring.
What have you done recently for the first time?
I learned tennis when I arrived in Miami, and now I’m totally hooked.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I put on a tracksuit – I wear it like a bathrobe – and slippers and I make myself a coffee. I like to have the peace of the mornings. It’s really important.
Do you have personal rituals?
I’m nothing but a ritual – I’m a weirdo who gets super kicked out when things go wrong. If you know me, you probably know that I have my notebook and my pencil in my hand. I constantly take notes.
Who is your reseller and what does he supply you with?
Josephine Dillon is the US representative for Ginori, and I’m probably the biggest buyer in the US – I collect vintage pieces, I have tons of them for personal use and all Italian restaurants.
What do you wear most often in your wardrobe?
My cream colored Vans. I have a stack of new ones, and as soon as they get scuffed and dirty, I put on a new pair.
Do you have a uniform for certain occasions?
I only have uniforms. If I go to a restaurant at night, I’ll put on a suit, unless I’m in the kitchen, where I’m wearing my chef’s uniform. If it’s work day, I’m in chinos – no jeans – my Vans and either a polo shirt or a t-shirt. My closet is just lots of the same things.
I use eBay hell and 1stDibs. I go down rabbit holes all the time. The other night, I remembered that the Miami Hurricanes had a logo that appealed to me when I was a kid, and I started buying vintage Hurricane stuff.
How to find peace?
My routine, if everything works according to my OCD-ness.
Who is your guru?
Tom Ford. I do a lot of WWTDs: “What would Tom do?” Tom made the uniforms for us at the Grill and the Pool, which was a dream of mine. Her clothes, her movies, her homes, the skin sticking out of her face, everything is perfectly placed with a studied and elegant ease that comes from precision.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
The first drink my grandmother gave me: sweet vermouth on ice. It’s simple and stupid, but it’s still what I drink before going out or sipping a cigar at sunset. Carpano Antica is my reference.
What’s the most recent thing you’ve added to your collection?
My last eBay haul was a collection of unsold Wilson bracelets from the 80s and 90s, for tennis.
What is the most impressive dish you cook?
Risotto di mare, it’s a dish we don’t prepare in any of the restaurants – it takes a lot of time. I lived in Italy and worked in a small family restaurant in my early 20s, and it’s a recipe from there.
What advice would you have liked to follow?
I’m not someone who puts a lot of money in the past that way. I believe that if you’re happy and content where you are today, you shouldn’t – and really can’t – regret something that didn’t happen in the past.
How much do you trust your instincts?
The problem with my instincts is that I’m emotional… The correct answer is probably something much more studied and considered.
Where do you get your clothes?
I wear a lot of Notre-Dame de Rocco, and I get all my shirts from Charvet.
To drive or to be driven?
I hate driving. I really don’t get any pleasure out of it.
Are you wearing a watch at the moment?
A Cartier Cristallor 70s. I also have a Tudor Black Bay, and my girlfriend gave me a Cartier Tank Americaine, the second of what I hope is a Cartier collection.
The last time you unplugged?
I don’t think I’ll be able to stop or unplug completely. Maybe that will come to me later in life, but right now I’m too restless.
What is your favorite hotel?
Mezzatorre in Ischia — I spent a week there last summer and now I would like to go back every year. It’s a very, very cozy and happy place.
Who do you admire the most and why?
My grandparents. They were born in Italy, and I often think about the courage it took to go somewhere abroad just to make myself a better place. This courage that I can’t even really understand.
What’s in your everyday bag?
I carry with me a wallet containing my notebook, a pen, a highlighter, AirPods, the house keys, a small leather cigar case and that’s about it.
What’s worth paying for?
Anything that saves you time.
Do you still write letters?
Only to my girlfriend. For example, if she is going on a trip, I will put a note in her luggage, and she will do the same for me.
Bowie or Dylan?
Bowie, all day.