anthony devoti's grandpa made ravioli every christmas eve illustration by vidhya nagarajan

Meals that Changed my Life: Anthony Devoti of Five Bistro

Many of us have vivid food memories, whether it’s a defining meal from childhood or a palate revelation from last week. Food contributes to who we are. For Five Bistro chef-owner Anthony Devoti, who recently launched J. Devoti Grocery, family meals and farm-raised ingredients left an indelible mark on his cooking. Here, the three meals that changed his life and shaped his career.

1. Childhood Sunday Breakfasts
A huge influence on my culinary life is coming home and cooking breakfast with Mom and Dad after church and watching Channel 9. First were Julia Child reruns, then Jacques Pépin and then Julia and Jacques. It was my introduction to cooking and cooking with family.

At breakfast, eggs were huge and everyone wanted a different style. My mom likes scrambled, my dad likes fried, I like poached, so we would play with that. Bacon, eggs, roasted potatoes, toast: a nice big family breakfast. The house smelled awesome. It set me on the food track. I went to the French Culinary Institute, where Jacques Pépin is a dean. Watching the old Jacques Pépin TV shows really impacted my career. It set my direction: Cooking is cool. Cooking is fun. It’s family-oriented.

2. Christmas Eve Ravioli
My grandpa made ravioli every year for Christmas. It was the focal point. We had a big Italian family. Even now we do Christmas Eve at my house, and that’s what we have every year. It’s a dish that brings a memory of him. We were really close.

It’s a sausage and beef ravioli and a classic Italian gravy and cheese. I don’t know how much of a recipe there is. You do this, then you do this, then you do this, then you bake it. I could write one out, but it’s more of an old, Italian-eyeballed thing.

3. Zuni Café,San Francisco, 2004
I was working in Chesterfield, and I wanted to open my own restaurant. I felt frustrated with the quality and level of food. I split and moved to San Francisco with the sole intention of finding farm-to-table restaurants. I was there a week and a half and walked by Zuni Café. I’d just read a Saveur Magazine with [former Zuni Café chef-owner] Judy Rodgers on the front. So I went in. I worked there for a little over a year. It was exactly what I was looking for. … It was like, “So-and-so brought tomatoes, and they will be on your dish tonight.”

The roasted chicken is an iconic dish at Zuni. Cutting into one, it’s so juicy, and the skin is crisp and it all came together. The technique was perfect – the way everything was cooked was perfect. And the food was rustic. It wasn’t eyedroppers and tweezers; it was real, proper, country French and Italian food. I wanted to bring that perfection back here. Judy Rodgers was a major influence on Five Bistro.

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