From the time she was a child, her fondest memories are of her mother cooking food for friends and family. “People would come and forget about their problems. Food was love. It was all about getting together,” she says. Her Italian mother did not speak English well and it was also an opportunity for her mother to learn the language. When Domenica graduated from high school, her father asked what she wanted to do for her career. She told him she wanted to go to culinary school. “He told me I would have plenty of time to cook when I had my own family,” she says. She ended up going to college and earning a degree in computer engineering. As part of the graduation process, the school sent them on interviews. One of those interviews was for NBC News.
“I had already interviewed for a job for the Teacher’s Association and, being young, I loved the fact that I would have three months off each year. Back then, that was a big draw to me. I agreed to go on the other interview with NBC because the school was setting it up,” she says.”I went into the interview at NBC confident that I already had the other position, and then they offered me a job also, with very good salary and opportunities,” she recalled.
It wasn’t long before she found a way to eat great food and learn about restaurants on the road with NBC. She was promoted to Foreign Bureau Chief in London, and began asking the restaurants she visited if she could work in their kitchens on her days off, for free. She ended up in kitchens from Guy Savoy’s to Claridge’s (Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant). She also worked in New York with Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and others. Along the way, she made the decision to go to culinary school and attended Peter Kump’s school, which is now called the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City.
One look at her kitchen and it is apparent it is run like a well-oiled machine. “It’s one thing to go to culinary school where you have 45 minutes to make a nice dish,” she says. “It’s another thing to finish a dish in 4 minutes for a waiting customer.” “These people that come here, work all day; they have their problems in life and all they want to do is feel like they can relax with their friends and eat together. I cook like they are coming to my house to eat. Like my mother cooked for me. The only difference is, we have to charge money for it.”
The owners admit that sometimes Domenica drives them a little crazy. However, after speaking with her, I am sure it is because she is constantly trying to improve. Her focus is on the customers that come to eat her food and on the staff she mentors in her kitchen. She has an old-school approach that you rarely see these days, except maybe in New York or a few other major cities.
This is not a person that likes to be in the spotlight. “There’s a reason I work in the back of the house,” she says. In fact, it took weeks for us to get together and I realized when we spoke, she’s actually pretty shy. Underneath that “kick ass in the kitchen” exterior is a really gentle soul who just wants to make people happy. In her house growing up, food was that catalyst.
Bella Brava is going through some major changes right now. They are preparing for the monumental move to Beach Drive, projected for August of this year. They are fine-tuning and refining their concept in the process. Valet parking will also be available at the new location, to alleviate parking concerns on Beach Drive.
It was a true experience to have the chance to learn more about Chef Dom (as people call her), even though I’ll always be a little mad that I constantly crave the Nutella Cheesecake I had there a while back. Domenica Macchia; a chef’s chef.