Chef Alex Fiato Connects Faith and Italian Food at The Italian Connection
“The good Lord wants all of us to gather together in prayer,” says the Italian restaurant owner, “and to get along.”
Passionate about authentic Italian cuisine? Traveling near Fort Wayne, Indiana? Plan on dining at The Italian Connection, established by head chef, Alex Fiato.
Not surprisingly, Chef Fiato became passionate about Italian food and cooking as a child. He said that he and his siblings grew up around food, and of course, as an Italian, it was always about Italian cuisine, which is like a religion. Both his mother and grandmother were very good home cooks. Even his father got involved in kitchen duties. “My dad went mushroom hunting,” he said, “and he made sausages with mushrooms.”
In addition, family members would make meatballs and spaghetti with a special sauce; pasta with beans; wedding cookies; cookies containing baked eggs; and cookies shaped like crosses. Although the family did not have a lot of niceties, he said, it did have its own victory garden that grew enough to feed the family. “We felt that food is a time of celebration,” he said, adding that he and his siblings were baby boomers, so they were transitioning to fast food. But, he noted, that although his family did not own a restaurant, many of his siblings and he opened restaurants in different parts of the country.
In fact, about 40 years ago, Chef Fiato opened his own, The Italian Connection. “It was blessed by our priest, Father Tom O’Connor,” he said. “Our restaurant is dedicated to the Holy Family.”
The chef’s strong faith has derived from his Catholic family. “My mom was very devoted to the Church and to the Blessed Mother,” he said. “She was a very kind and saintly woman and she brought the full force of her faith to us. She brought us up with all the sacraments and all the celebrations of Catholic holy days. My grandmother would say the Rosary; she made her own with knots and string. You saw and felt that love for God.”
But like many youngsters, Chef Alito wandered away. “The next thing you know,” he said, “you question your faith and then get lost in the ways of the world. Maybe the Lord wants that so we have a great appreciation and to emulate Our Lady. … If you ask the right question, ‘Do You exist?’ he will tell you. When you become an adult and have been in the world, at a certain point you know God exists and if you take your eyes off of Christ, you will perish.”
It is likely, however, that God called this talented man to be a chef. He recalled how it all came about one day. “My wife’s boss was driving by this building and saw that it was for sale,” he said. “I called the owner and we signed a lease for $150 a month with the option to buy. We had to buy all the equipment and food, but we had a love for food and a desire to produce meals.”
Of course, from such a dedicated foodie, Chef Fiato and staff make every dish from scratch, even the pasta. The extensive menu, visible on the Facebook page, showcases numerous pasta entrées, such as shrimp scampi and shrimp Flamingo Cajun creole clams, veal parmesan, and veal marsala, along with so many other offerings.
But Catholic patrons will rejoice at Chef Fiato’s décor, which includes a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. “We also have her book and many documents we have published in her honor,” he said. “She is all over the inside of our property, which shows our dedication to Christ through her. ... The good Lord wants all of us to gather together in prayer and to get along.”
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Italian Cream Creole Clam Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped onion
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped tomato
- 1/2 tablespoon diced green pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon diced garlic cloves
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup cream
- 1 teaspoon Zatarain’s Creole seasoning
- Lemon juice to taste
- 6 1/2 ounce can Bar Harbor sea clams with juice
- 1 pound cooked linguine, still warm
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. and sauté the onion, tomato, green pepper, garlic cloves, fresh basil and parsley for a few minutes. Stir in the cream, Creole seasoning, lemon juice and sea clams with juice. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Arrange the pasta on serving dishes, and top with the sauce. Serve.