There is a heart beating strong in American Sicily, a space filled with expertise, pride, and a sense of belonging.
It is to this heart that the Agricultural Department of the Sicily Region has turned to bring the story of Sicily to New York at the Summer Fancy Food Show. It is the world’s largest food event, which Americans simply call the Food Show, underscoring its absolute importance. It is an unmissable event for anyone in the food and beverage industry.
Celestino Drago, together with his brothers, is one of the remarkable ambassadors of Sicily worldwide. Through his work, he has helped spread Italian gastronomic culture, particularly Sicilian cuisine, in the United States.Embarking on this journey full of hope at the age of 22, about forty years ago, he was soon joined by his brothers. With a lifetime of hard work, passion, and a constant connection to his beloved Sicily, Celestino has created a small miracle, comprising ten restaurants in the State of California, employing approximately 800 people.When asked how he adapted Sicilian cuisine to suit American tastes, his straightforward response reveals the immense effort and intention behind Celestino’s work: “We have educated people about the flavors of Sicily.”
Chefs and gastronomes have always been the true cultural ambassadors of our country, and ‘imparting’ the original flavors is an important cultural endeavor, one that the Drago family has embraced. We owe it to them and the tireless work of many fellow Sicilians abroad that Sicily now attracts immense curiosity and interest worldwide.
Celestino himself explains how the attention towards Sicily is comparable to the focus on Tuscany twenty years ago. It is now the responsibility of Sicilian entrepreneurs to transform this attention into development and prosperity.
Despite having a thriving industry of their own, Celestino and his brothers, Giacomino, Tanino, Calogero, and Pino (owner of the Degusto restaurant in Galati Mamertino, Sicily, who will be joining forces with his brothers for this occasion), did not hesitate to accept the invitation from Councilor Sammartino to represent Sicily in New York. Their task will be to support the delegation of Sicilian companies (comprising 6 companies and 4 consortia, representing a total of about sixty businesses), by showcasing Sicilian dishes using products from the exhibiting companies.
As Giacomino explains to me, their role will involve utilizing the products from these companies but, above all, telling the story of Sicily to the visitors of the Food Show—a highly knowledgeable and specialized audience (if you are not part of the food industry, you cannot even access the event). The mission and responsibility that the Drago family feels entrusted with is to disseminate Sicilian gastronomic culture.
Certainly, as Giacomino explains, Sicilian gastronomy is now well-known and appreciated, despite the time when, forty years ago, the first Italian restaurants in the United States claimed their roots in Northern Italy while showing disdain for Southern cuisine.
What prevails is a complex system that undoubtedly relies on gastronomes as pillars but also requires the involvement of production companies in Sicily and institutional support.Listening to Celestino’s words, it is easy to sense satisfaction for the promotional work planned for Sicily and the enthusiasm he will bring to the Food Show, representing the colors of Sicily.
Celestino has begun telling the story that took him from Galati Mamertino to becoming one of the iconic gastronomes in one of the world’s most powerful states. I recall that California alone would be the world’s fifth-largest economic power. But I interrupt the narrative.
Certain stories deserve the right time and space to be told and, above all, listened to. I will meet Celestino, Giacomino, Tanino, Calogero, and Pino at the Food Show in a few days, and I am sure we will find the time to finish telling their captivating story, which I can already anticipate from the initial exchanges.