It would be an understatement to say that the hospitality industry has suffered greatly since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns in March. Even today, in-restaurant dining, if allowed at all, is capped at just a small percentage of a restaurant’s standard capacity. As part of an ongoing series of interviews with key leaders in hospitality about what they’ve seen in their industry and what changes are ahead, we spoke with Fabio Trabocchi, one of Washington, DC’s most well-known and respected chefs, and owner of Michelin-starred Fiola, as well as sister restaurants including the popular Fiola Mare, Sfoglina Pasta House, and the Spanish-inspired Del Mar, as well as other locations of Fiola in Miami and Venice, Italy a nod to the Italian-born chef’s heritage.
“Reopening restaurants during this unprecedented time is a challenge unlike any other we have faced,” says Trabocchi. As of press time, all of his DC locations have re-opened on a limited capacity.
“…it is a responsibility we do not take lightly. There is nothing more important to me than the safety, well-being, and trust of my team and our guests.”
The restauranteur has partnered with Dr. Ernest Brown, a concierge medical professional, to develop best practices for compliance and safety, and continues to evolve guidance regularly, all while keeping in mind his brand’s core value, the simple yet effective mantra of Make People Happy.
Pre pandemic, Chef had already decided to make changes to Fiola, his signature flagship, which was, at the time, nearly a decade old. The restaurant had planned to close this summer for a revamp set to debut in the fall. But the world had other plans. Instead, not just Fiola but all of Chef Trabocchi’s restaurants, closed, along with the rest of the world.
But while the team was down, it wasn’t out of the game for long. They pivoted, opening “Fabio at Home,” delivering the prepared meals to go with the “same elevated dining experience” that the restaurant’s usual rotation of Washington, DC power players and visiting celebrities usually enjoyed.
Options range from gastronomic kits to grill boxes, and even customized virtual experiences.
“We are seeing a steady demand for innovative virtual programming from our corporate and nonprofit clients,” says chef, as well as smaller-scale gatherings and micro-weddings.
In addition to making available the menus guests might encounter in the restaurant, dishes might include the Paella Party at Del Mar with items like Pescado y Marisco (Seafood) Paella with Cogollos con Cerezas, Gazpacho Andaluz, Tortilla Española, and Flan con Duraznos and a keepsake paella pan.
“We went to great lengths in considering the best way to share the Fabio Trabocchi Restaurant experience while also making the culinary execution approachable to our guests at home,” chef says. The beverage program complements these items, including sangria and “ultimate Aperol spritz” kits, and the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning cellar at Fiola, is open for wine lovers to snag sought-after producers in the regions of Piedmont, Tuscany, and Sicily, with some rare vintages not available on the general market.
While the “new Fiola” concept isn’t yet ready for prime time, the restaurant also took advantage of quarantine to form a farm-to-table partnership with local farm Chancellors Rock, and quietly debuted Fiola 2.o, honoring the “bounty of the farm,” over the summer.
Says chef: “My father, a sharecropper like his father before him, taught me not just about cooking, but about food sourcing and sustainable farming. Growing up in Italy, these were not trends; this is the way of life for Italians. I’m proud to present dishes that not only represent the diversity of Italian foodways, but that also engage powerfully with our regional culinary culture. Chancellors Rock Farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia, holds the same highest standards for our endeavor – boasting active partnerships with American Farmland Trust (as part of their Sustainable Grazing Project) and the Smithsonian’s Virginia Working Landscapes.”
He suggests taking time this fall — particularly the beautiful fall months of September and October, to enjoy an al fresco dining experience, either in one of his restaurants along the waterfront or in your own backyard. “Add romance to the evening with candles and soft linens at the table. Offer a variety of olive oils on the table to enjoy with rustic bread. Embellish the table with arrangements of fresh herbs, branches, and other natural decor. Hand-calligraph the menu on pressed Italian paper. Enhance the experience by adding a virtual component or a service, such as a Sommelier Guided Wine Tasting or a Pasta Making Class,” he suggests.
While “Fiola 2.0” is just a pop-up, for now, it is “the foundation for the new identity of the Michelin-starred restaurant, Fiola.” We, for one, like to call it a beautiful taste of what’s the come.