The contorni approach
Don Giovanni seeks to bring authentic Italian to Concord
By Linda A. Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Chef John Lockwood never worked in a restaurant until he opened Don Giovanni in Concord five years ago.
Born in Naples and educated in Bologna, he was exposed to the foods of both the northern and southern Italian regions.
“Cooking was always a religion in my family,” he said. “It was my passion since I was a kid. My earliest recollection [of cooking in the family] starts with my grandmother. We made fresh pasta once or twice a week to last the entire week. We made tortellini and ravioli.”
Lockwood came to the United States in 1966 and managed a department in the photo industry that dealt with corporate customers. At home, he prepared three-course meals every day for his wife and two sons (who now work in the restaurant). Once a month guests would come for dinner.
When Lockwood went to visit Italy, he would take four or five days to attend a culinary school. In restaurants where he enjoyed the food, he would go back into the kitchen and talk with the chef. Often they would invite him to visit early in the morning to watch the day’s preparations.
This love and dedication to food turned out to be the education Lockwood needed to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant.
“It was something I’ve always wanted to do, so I figured that before my days ended, it was something I should do,” he said.
Don Giovanni is a small, intimate restaurant. It avoids the clichés of red-white checked tablecloths and candles in empty chianti bottles. Here, elegance is the theme, with warm colors and white tablecloths.
“I want customers to feel as though they were sitting in Italy,” Lockwood said. “This is authentic Italian food, not Italian-American like other restaurants.”
Lockwood described his role as that of the restaurant’s orchestra director who “doesn’t play an instrument but could play them all.” He cooks during the day, often preparing the soup and the lasagna. However, most of the time, he leaves the food preparation to his six chefs, each with a specific area of expertise. He oversees the meal service and says, “I make it a point two or three times an evening to walk the floor and meet the diners.”
Two of Lockwood’s chefs focus entirely on vegetables. He said that, although most Italian-American restaurants serve a tossed salad with their meals, most Italians do not eat a lot of them. So instead, he offers five to ten vegetable choices — contorni — for customers to choose from, such as fagiolini Don Giovanni (green beans, onions, garlic and tomato), zucchini scapece (zucchini, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and mint), and insalata di peperone arrostiti (roasted red peppers, garlic, parsley and lemon).
“I can’t understand why people don’t like to labor with vegetables,” he said.
Lockwood described his entire menu as labor-intensive. His pastry chef makes the bread each day, which is also used to make breadcrumbs.