Pasquale `Nicky' Chiapparelli, 71, longtime chef

April 26, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Pasquale F. "Nicky" Chiapparelli, longtime chef of Chiapparelli's Restaurant, died of a heart attack Tuesday in the Little Italy restaurant that bears his family's name. He was 71.

A well-known and respected figure in the tight-knit Italian community where he was born and spent his entire life, Mr. Chiapparelli began his 60-year restaurant career working with his father while attending St. Leo Parochial School.

His father, Pasquale "Patsy" Chiapparelli, an immigrant baker and chef from Naples, opened a bakery at 237 S. High St. in the 1920s and produced some of the first pizza pies in Baltimore.

In 1938, in the same building where the bakery had been, he opened Chiapparelli's, a restaurant that has specialized in traditional southern Italian cooking for more than 60 years.

"Nicky came in at 5 a.m. and left at 9 p.m. Long hours didn't mean anything to him. He never wanted to leave and worked until the day he died," said Louis Chiapparelli, a brother who lives in Towson.

A gifted and creative chef, in his busy and aromatic kitchen he cooked up daily servings of such specialties as Lobster Pasquale, a dish combining lobster, clams and shrimp in marinara sauce. Another favorite was Ed Perry's Scampi, with shrimp covered in a rich white clam sauce.

Former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, who grew up on Albemarle Street across from the restaurant, was a lifelong patron.

"Nicky was a terrific human interest story. He was born into a poor family, started working for his father washing dishes, and then he got promoted to busboy. He then learned how to cut meat and eventually cook and became one of the best chefs of Little Italy," Mr. D'Alesandro said.

"He also prepared great veal dishes and a linguini with crab sauce that was just out of this world."

Tony Gambino, owner and chef of Ciao Bella, whose restaurant is next door, was a close friend of Mr. Chiapparelli.

"He was quite the character and well liked in the community. He was a strong figure in the kitchen and made a good red sauce and veal parmigiana," said Mr. Gambino, who often shared a drink, a sandwich and jokes with Mr. Chiapparelli after hours.

"One time I walked out the back door of my restaurant into his house carrying a sandwich and he took a $20 bill and tore it in half. He said he'd give me the other half when I brought the drink. I went back to the bar, got a vodka and took it to him, and then he gave me the other half."

Mr. Chiapparelli's indefatigability amazed those who worked with him.

"To imagine how many thousands of people he cooked for through the years is incomprehensible," said Sam Curreri, the manager, who has worked for the restaurant since 1990. "He was an inspiration with his strength and drive. He was nonstop because he loved this place."

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at Little Italy's St. Leo Roman Catholic Church.

Mr. Chiapparelli, whose marriage ended in divorce many years ago, is also survived by two sons, Eric Chiapparelli of Panama City, Fla., and Tony Chiapparelli of Seattle; and his mother, Anna Chiapparelli, and another brother, Charles Chiapparelli, both of Little Italy.

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