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With the pride and confidence that comes with experience, Claudio Scaduto placed a white palette colored with gleaming golds, garnet reds and leafy greens onto his booth table.
For Scaduto, the dinner plate is his canvas.
“My life’s work,” said the award-winning executive chef and owner of Cote d’ Azur Restaurant in North Naples as he gazed down at his work.
Scaduto’s latest creation is the Pan Seared Maine Sea Scallops with golden and red beets in a wallet with truffle oil and lemon drizzle, roasted artichokes, basil pesto and celery root for $34. The entree will remain on his menu until the beginning of May, when Maine’s scallop season ends.
“I get bored always cooking the same thing. I like to create and change. Like a painter, he doesn’t always paint the same thing,” Scaduto said.
Hailing from Nice, Scaduto opened Le Vesuvio restaurant in Monte Carlo. He moved to New York in 1980, earning favorable restaurant reviews in the New York Times, Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines before he moved to Naples and opened Cote d’ AZur in 2001.
The Cote d’Azur, or “blue coast,” is also known as the French Riviera, one of the first modern resort areas. It’s 560 miles of Mediterranean coastline along the southeast corner of France, including the sovereign state of Monaco.
Less than a few miles from Naples’ own blue coastline, sophisticated palates are savoring Scaduto’s fare. “Zagat’s 2012 Best Restaurants” guide rated Cote d’ Azur the No. 1 restaurant in the Naples market, writing that guests will discover Provençal fare “skillfully prepared, artfully presented” and “magnifique” tasting.
When Scaduto creates his highly rated work, he doesn’t like outsiders hovering nearby. He doesn’t share the details, said his wife, Seda Scaduto, who runs the dining room.
“It’s his artistic expression,” she said. But with a little persuasion, Scaduto shared about his scallop dish.
Because it’s scallop season in Maine, the scallops Scaduto uses are sweet and big, three times the circumference of a quarter. Ten of them comprise a pound.
“I sear them with extra virgin olive oil until there’s a nice caramelized color on top and put them in the oven,” he said. “And voila!”
For the rest of the dish, Scaduto marinates young red and golden beets in truffle oil, lemon and salt before roasting them in aluminum foil in the oven, because putting them in water causes them to lose flavor. He likes root vegetables because the root has more of the concentrated flavor than the stalk or leaves, and he favors young over mature vegetables. They pack more punch.
“Like a young girl or guy,” Scaduto said with a laugh and wink, “they’re more tender and sweet.”
Three thinly sliced circles of red beet form the foundation of the plate. Scaduto roasts halved butternut squash, scoops the squash out, smashes it and puts it in a pan to make a puree, which he pats onto the three beet slices.
“By roasting the vegetables, it makes more flavor, almost glazes them. It releases its own sugar. It becomes caramelized, more or less,” he said.
Three large scallops sink into the squash puree, and then three slices of golden beet land above to make the scallop wallet. He sprinkles microgreens and microflowers with pink and yellow petals on top.
Scaduto marinates young artichokes in thyme, rosemary and olive oil — for one week — before roasting that, too. He nestles two quartered hearts sprinkled with chives between the scallop wallets.
The crowning dashes of color and flavor are a basil pesto coulis and a celery root coulis. A coulis is thicker than a sauce and thinner than a puree, made from fruit or vegetables. In this case, Scaduto uses it as a garnish so as not to “invade all the rest of the plate,” he said.
The end result is a study in the fine art of food.