Mansfield’s ’s owners Kenny DeFazio and his wife Yvonne opened up shop in Mansfield almost 12 years ago, and they it’s never been better.
DeFazio said that he first started cooking with his grandmother in Iowa when he was five or six years old. Trattoria Della Nonna, literally translated means “grandma’s kitchen,” and DeFazio said he drew his inspiration from his grandmother.
“My grandparents are from Italy and her food was unbelievable,” he said. “I developed my palate from her.”
DeFazio said that he began helping his grandmother in the kitchen every Sunday when he could. At least 40 or 50 family members would come over every week to share in her cooking.
“In 1985, there was a family reunion for my grandmother and my grandfather,” he said. “At that point, there were 240 [direct] descendents. That was just in ’85; I can’t imagine how many there are now.”
DeFazio’s family helped him develop what he says is his passion in life. He’s on the line as a chef at the restaurant.
“In this business, to me it’s like being an artist,” he said. “If it’s not a passion; if it’s not something you love, you can make a good go at it but it’s not as fun if you don’t love what you’re doing.”
DeFazio said that such passion and hard work shows itself in the quality of the food.
“I’ve worked under a lot of people over the years and I can see the difference,” he said. “I’m not saying that my food is the greatest, but I see the difference between what I put into my place and what other restaurants put into in their places. They’re not chef-owned restaurants, they were just entrepreneurs.”
DeFazio got a crash course in real Italian cooking when he visited Calabria, a region in southern Italy facing opposite Sicily (and also where his grandmother was originally from), for several weeks with another chef whom he was working with at the time. He said the experience was enlightening when it came to ingredients and organization. He said he went to a different home in the area each day to learn the local secrets.
“I was in about 35 homes in the hills of Calabria,” he said. “Each home I went into, I wound up cooking with the mother or the wives of the house. I pretty much learned the formula of Calabria.”
DeFazio said that it was an interesting experience, comparing real Italian food to its Americanized cousin, and he said it was the simplicity of ingredients that set the food apart.
“I found that there was about 15-20 different ingredients in all the homes and it’s how they put it together that makes it work,” he said. “They could cook 30 different items on the table and not one thing would taste the same, that’s how interesting they are when they put things together.”
DeFazio said that the design of the restaurant also came from his observations of Calabrian architecture, including window design and atmosphere. He said he wanted to get a feel for an Italian grandmother's kitchen, though he did admit, his grandmother's kitchen did not have a full bar.