Italian Passion - American Dream :: Fig Tree Cafe’s Alberto Morreale
"In American culture it’s a little different, especially in these times. I see a lot of people, the time that they’re supposed to be using for dinner, they use it for their technology. They’re all eating at the same table but they’re text messaging or checking e-mails. You can be close with family but it’s easy to become distant."
This concern reminds Morreale to make time for togetherness. "I realized how important this was when I opened my business. My wife was working in the morning, I was working at night, there was never any time to sit down and have a family meal. But other than that, I was just running around all the time." Enjoying family feasts by a chef with three decades of experience on a regular basis must be quite a treat!
Morreale’s "passion for the kitchen" started at age 13, though he didn’t know it at the time. "I had no desire to work in a kitchen at that moment but I developed a love for it very fast. Even if the cuisine was local or familiar, I wanted to experience it first-hand. It was part-time work after school or during summer break."
Given the extensive variety of cuisine speckled all over Italy, Morreale couldn’t limit himself to one city. He started by travelling to Northern Italy at 15. "My mother was definitely against me moving alone, but I’ve been a kind of a free soul since I was very young. Using the passion I had for cooking, I moved from city to city. Milan, Novara and Bergamo for two or three years. At 18 years old, I came back to Sicily and worked for another three years until I decided to come to the United States to work with family who owned a restaurant in Downtown San Diego. It was definitely very different from the way it was back home. I didn’t speak any English or Spanish so I felt like a little kid again for a couple years. When you don’t know the language, everything else becomes an obstacle, even buying groceries or going to the doctor. But everybody knows that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I saw an opportunity to grow so I stayed and learned English and Spanish."
Working for three major restaurants in Downtown gave Morreale the opportunity to work with chefs of various styles and nationalities. "When we opened Fig Tree Cafe, I wanted the nighttime menu to be more of a mix... a fusion of every cuisine I liked. There are definitely strong ties to Italian because that’s my background. We have pastas, homemade ravioli, brick-oven pizza. But besides that, we try to fuse different flavors from all over the world."
Morreale feels that his wildly successful partnership with Fig Tree co-owner Johan Engman is due to a complementary combination of will power, vision and skill. While it might be too early to go into detail about future ventures, he promises, "There’s definitely something else coming."
Whatever is in store, we’re certain it will feel just as warm and inviting as a table of familiar faces.
416 University Avenue
5119 Cass Street
2400 Historic Decatur Road #103