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For Dean Cannestra, Cooking Is in the Genes

Feb. 22, 2012
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Milwaukee restaurateur and chef Dean Cannestra, owner of Nessun Dorma and Libiamo restaurants, insists that the secret to a good marinara sauce is "sweetness." Cannestra prefers to cook his tomatoes for a shorter period of time, in order to develop what he considers to be the perfect level of acidity. Culinary intuition appears to be a family trait. Cannestra's grandmother was in the catering business, his aunt owned a pizzeria and it was while working at Palermo Villa, which is owned by his sister Kathleen, that Cannestra mastered "contemporary Italian" cuisine.

When did you start cooking?

I started over at Palermo Villa and worked with a lot of chefs over the years. Plus, I was always cooking with the family. I did some cooking at school and I took some classes in college and high school, but most of my training was on the job, working with different people in the industry.

Which chefs were you working with at Palermo Villa?

The Fallucca family. They originated the recipes for Palermo Villa and now own Palermo's Pizza.

Why did you want to open your own restaurant?

I always had the desire to open up a restaurant, because I loved it over at Palermo Villa. I was just looking to do something a little different, and I liked the Riverwest area. I thought that Riverwest was a market that was underserved; I found a nice little spot and we were able to develop Nessun Dorma into a nice casual bar.

How did you decide on the menu?

I was looking to do a different style of bar food with an Italian (influence)... I didn't have the facilities to do any pizzas, but we were able to do the panini sandwiches, bruschetta, tenderloin sandwiches, Caesar salad, homemade soups and some unique daily specials.

Were you looking to create a different experience with Libiamo?

Nessun Dorma is more of a casual, neighborhood place with a bar and some nice Italian food. I was looking for a bigger restaurant, something that could be used for parties, family gatherings and large groups. This facility caters to that.

Do you have a favorite dish on the menu at either of your restaurants?

I eat a lot of pasta, so just something really simple like Bolognese—the tomato cream sauce with some smoked pancetta, Italian sausage and seasoned beef. That's a meal right there. I love that.


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