October 16, 2018 – Arturo Moscoso was born in Italy and raised in Peru. He drew inspiration from Old World Europe and contemporary Asia, worked in acclaimed kitchens on multiple continents with the likes of Chris Cosentino and Giada De Laurentiis, and migrated to Reno for the final phase of his life, which was cut short by pancreatic and stomach cancer earlier this year. But if the outpouring of love and respect from Monterey County is any indication, the true home of the well-traveled chef is right here.
Moscoso, who starred as executive chef at Pèppoli in Pebble Beach for the better part of a decade, had a personality as as big as his skill set, so it makes poetic sense that a benefit for his wife and two young daughters be just as large. The lineup of contributing chefs for Festa Moscoso in Folktale Winery’s barrel room on November 11 is prodigious—and loaded with personality itself.
Kent Torrey (The Cheese Shop), Cal Stamenov (Bernardus Lodge), Tim Wood (Carmel Valley Ranch), Rich Pepe (Little Napoli), Jonathan Christopher Roberts (The Pig Wizard Deli), Mike Jones (Cachagua General Store), Brandon Miller (il Grillo), Thomas Snyder (Cella/Cooper Molera), Chris Caul (the former Christopher’s) and James Anderson (The Poke Lab)—with more chefs joining as this goes live—will fashion food. Standout wineries including Wrath, Scratch, Bernardus, Tondre, Denner, Luli and Joyce will all pour. Leopold and Mad Otter Ale will furnish craft beer. Toby Rowland-Jones will handle the emcee duties, while lead man Ray Bertolini (of one-time local faves Lovers and Strangers) brings his band from Vegas and DJ Tiny spins.
Despite the mother lode of culinary talent, Moscoso’s close friend, event co-organizer and longtime local hospitality industry stalwart Frayne Padgham insists the goal is not a food-and-wine wowser.
“We really want to stress that,” he says. “The chefs and wineries are a draw, but the event is more of a gathering to celebrate Arturo and what he represented.”
Which means the crowd can have their risotto and eat it too: Moscoso was simply all about food, as his longtime sous chef Nikki Shirokow points out. They spent around 100 hours a week together over Moscoso’s last decade, launching celebrated restaurants from Napa to Las Vegas and hanging out with his family so much that she calls his kids her “nieces.”
“It’s hard to separate what made him special as a person and him as a chef because a chef is who he was,” she says. “Everything was about food for him.”
That expressed itself in high standards. “He was demanding in the kitchen, which some people struggled with, but in the end it made us a lot stronger and it showed in the food,” she says. “But he was able to make these dishes and teach others how to make them amazing and over and over again—something a lot of people can’t do.”
It also appeared in subtler ways. When he and Shirokow were helping launch much-ballyhooed Campo in Reno he quietly sought out small farms who hadn’t worked with restaurants, saying “I’ll take everything you can give me.” With one egg farm, Shirokow recalls, he asked that they start feeding their chickens more beets and carrots, for yellower and richer yolks, which led to better fresh pasta, and happier customers.
“Everything was food first,” she says, “and it showed in every aspect. We were making great pasta already, but he saw we can take the process further. He looked at a lot of details people don’t think about.”
It bears mentioning that food, in the hands of someone like Moscoso, means plenty more: It is a medium to communicate heart, a love of relationships, an instinct for friendship. “He had such a big heart,” Shirokow says. “He loved having those connections with people, which is a very Italian thing: Sit down, break bread, build relationships with family or people you just met. It’s all of these other things involved.”
He also represented a willingness to speak his mind. That earned pushback from some and respect and loyalty from many more. Chef Wood sums up it up as well as anyone. “His dishes were bold and big and straightforward like him,” Wood says. “He wouldn’t hold back and never pretended to be anything he wasn’t.”
Restaurateur Rich Pepe, who was part of the team who brought Moscoso to Pèppoli, gets a chuckle out of that characterization.
“He was a creative and passionate mind for all things Italian,” Pepe says, citing items that will remain on the menu for a long time, and Moscoso’s role in pioneering charcuterie on the West Coast. “His style meshed with everything we wanted Peppoli to be—and he was one of these bold but stubborn chefs. When he stood with his arms crossed, he didn’t like something.
“‘We’re not doing it that way,’ he’d say. ‘We’re not gonna be a California-Italian restaurant.’ He was stubborn about keeping with Old World tradition—but he did it in a somewhat innovative and contemporary way.”
He also made a habit of supporting essentially every community cause that approached him.
“Any time people would come in, he was on board to help out,” Shirokow says. “He would never turn anyone away.”
That’s not lost on Padgham as he helps set up the nonprofit to benefit Moscoso’s girls and visits kitchens to enlist participants.
“As far as the outpouring of help and generosity displayed by our community,” Padgham says, “I think it’s a testament to how many people loved Arturo. I’m personally stunned by the amount of donations, be it food, wine, monetary or other, that we have already received for the event and the family. It’s truly awe-inspiring.”
Which means Moscoso’s spirit is still very much representing.
Get tickets here before they sell out: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/festa-moscoso-tickets-50091192104