Franco Pinaglia has cooked for princes and kings, for tourists at ritzy international resorts and for globe-trotting vacationers aboard cruise ships.
Alberto Contestabila tasted Pinaglia's expertly prepared veal and seafood, saw the exotic pastries sculpted into miniaturetowns and windmills and knew what had to be done.
He had to bring the Italian master chef to Glen Burnie.
"Who would think you'd find this in Glen Burnie?" said Contestabila, the owner of Trattoria Alberto, a Crain Highway restaurant that promises "the finest (Northern) Italian cuisine anywhere outside of Italy."
Contestabila met Pinaglia while visiting his hometown on the island ofElba. He was so impressed with the master chef that he spent the past two years helping Pinaglia arrange for the necessary visas to work in the United States.
Three weeks ago, the 48-year-old Pinaglia donned his chef's hat and apron and began working his magic in the kitchen of Trattoria Alberto, preparing luncheon buffets with shrimp and mushroom appetizers, lamb with fresh rosemary and veal cordon bleu.
His magic touch has boosted business, says Contestabila, who immigrated from Italy in 1970 and runs the 7-year-old restaurant with his wife, Maria.
Pinaglia, who speaks four languages and is learning English, had dreamed of coming to the United States -- for him, a land of opportunity. In the past, the cruise ships he's served aboard havebrought him temporarily to many American cities: Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Fort Lauderdale.
Speaking in Italian as Contestabila translated, the chef described his first impressions of life in America. Everything works, he says, from the telephones to the buses.
The native of Demodessola, a small town near the border of Italy and Switzerland, began working as a kitchen boy at age 14 to help support his family.
He went on to work in Milano, then in Monte Carlo and then became a sous-chef at the most famous hotel in San Remo, a city near Monte Carlo. His customers there often included royalty from England and Spain.
He learned from chefs all over Europe, working in hotels in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. Eventually, he supervised other chefs aboard Home Lines cruise ships, sailing the Caribbean. Before traveling to the United States, he worked as one of nine chefs at the Grand Hotel del Parco in Pescasseroli, near Rome.
From his earliest years, Pinaglia found he had a gift for preparing food, especially pastry, which he can sculpt into almost anything imaginable, even a miniature horse and carriage.
"He can cover any spot in the kitchen, from seafood to veal to pastry," Contestabila says. "He creates the food. Each dish is completely different. Like Michelangelo, he creates something. He's an artist."
The restaurant owner says he doesn't know how long he can keep his chef in GlenBurnie. He's good, very good, Contestabila says, good enough to maybe someday cook for the president at the White House.
At that suggestion, Pinaglia shook his head and laughed a modest laugh.
But hisboss just shrugged his shoulders.
"Who knows?" he said.