I met my guest: architect, director, screenwriter, and entrepreneur, within his own luxurious restaurant. A seventy-year old gentleman, an enthusiastic speaker with a slight accent that betrays his Italian origins. A man of innate charm, looking almost renaissance-like, as he greets women with the baciamano, a light kiss of the hand. Exclusively wearing made-in-Italy apparel, the gentleman seems to shoot for nothing if not distinction.
Renzo Maietto, define yourself with three adjectives that present your person? As an Italian American, which do you feel more like today, Italian or American?
“Creative, imaginative, enthusiastic”, is what others tend to say about me. I definitely feel Italian, but I also feel like a citizen of the world, with 50% of my heart in Italy and the other 50% in America. I was born right after the war and my father Orazio cast upon me the beauty of the American dream. I left Italy for love, as I had met an American actress, Florence, whom I married, and who accompanied me in the realization of my dream. Seen as in Italy I could not design the villas I wanted to build, I engaged that goal across the pond, in Miami, where I could let my creativity run free.”
You were able to let our creativity and style be appreciated in everything you’ve built, from the first villas, to the popular projects, to your cinematic endeavors in the ‘70s. Does American pragmatism and Italian thirst for beauty live together? What is your recipe for success?
“A recipe? Maybe I always brought passion and creativity, and the search for the beautiful in everything I’ve built, starting from my grandma Angelina’s cooking.”
We cannot help but remember evocative dishes like Proust’s Madeleine’s- so, what’s a dish that has, in your opinion, the flavors of Nonna Angelina’s cooking?
“A dish that always takes me back to my infancy are the gnocchi that my grandma would give me as a prize for helping her air out the coal and wood furnace below the kitchen in her restaurant in Viterbo, “TRE RE”. The gratification came immediately when grandma would just give them to me as a present fo helping out.”
When did you realize your American Dream?
“Definitely not right away. Only four years ago I realized one of the dreams that had been with me the longest. “Renzo’s”, in Hendersonville, NC, is a rigorously authentic italian restaurant. My cuisine is not modern, but rooted in a revisitation of the traditions of the early 1960’s. I am a “restaurateur” of older, more traditional cuisine, like grandma’s.”
You are a kind guest. I browsed your website, and noticed that you’ve compiled a guide to Italian restaurant. What do you suggest to Americans visiting Italy?
“I was tell my American clients: learn a little bit of Italian, because when you’ll be in paradise, you’ll be able to talk to the Angels, as Thomas Mann used to say.”
We can affirm that you’ve reached your American dream. Have you conceded yourself any personal present from this success story?
“A full suit, rigorously made-in-Italy”.
You seem to go back to Italy often. You now live in North Carolina, though you divide your life between Miami, where your children are, and Rome, where your brother is a producer and a famous lawyer. Why live around Hendersonville’s mountaintops and away from urban centers?
“It was definitely an emotive choice. Miami has been my adoptive city, and I loved it greatly, but now it’s grown out of its shoes. North Carolina has represented a sort of testing table for my dreams as a restaurateur, an ambitious next step, if you will”.
In the near future, we should be seeing a Renzo’s in Washington – is this an attempt at staying close to the heart of politics you seem to nurture such interest in?
“There will be a new Renzo’s, yes, but it won’t just be a restaurant, it’ll be THE restaurant. However, it’s too early to speak on that now, but I am waiting for you once we are open”.
Washington and politics. You claim independence, but have a close friendship with republican sympathizer Steve Bannon. A friend? A supporter? Do you also belong to the streak of American philanthropists investing in the reunification of European right-wing parties under the new “The Mouvement”?
“I follow the philosophies of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and Alessandro Meluzzi, an italian philosopher and psychiatrist. I sympathize and support national sovereignty and popular traditions, wherever I can, despite only being a citizen of the world.
On the theme of immigration?
“I am in favor of controlled immigration, I am anti-Soros and opposed to the crowding of populations”.
We are close to Thanksgiving, is there someone you’d like to thank but haven’t had the chance to?
“I thank all of my ladies. From grandma Angelina, to my daughters, to all the women I’ve loved. I’ve married four times, to two italiana and two Americans. I am a serious person, I marry them all!”
Translated by Angelo Pennati.