Chef Paolo Cenni
Paolo Cenni has been in the restaurant business since he was 8 years old.
He was a bus boy for his father, Piero, who was a waiter at Rome’s Angle on Decatur Street in New Orleans. That was in 1986. Now he owns and operates his own restaurant in the historic district of downtown Ponchatoula, Louisiana, his adopted hometown. It has been a journey.
Paolo grew up in the province of Bergamo, in the region of Northern Italy. Forbes Magazine’s David Rosengarten reported that the best food in Italy is found in that “wondrous north-central region that lies in the fertile Po River Valley.” In Bergamo the ingredients for the too-many-to-count restaurants come from the local farms and the fishermen who ply the waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Paolo, his parents and his four siblings came from Italy to the USA in 1984 and settled in New Orleans. After Rome’s Angle, Paolo’s father ran the downstairs restaurant of the Carmello’s at the corner of Bienville and Decatur. The cooking was done by Piero himself at the table sides and Paolo bussed and waited tables for his father throughout high school.
In the summer of 1997 Paolo returned to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy to work for Chef Gallo Cedove. Mostly, Paolo cleaned fish for the chef but he watched and learned his cooking techniques, too. Later that year Papa Piero opened his own restaurant in downtown Ponchatoula – Ristorante da Piero, Il Pasatore (the latter part of the name a reference to the Italian Robin Hood). In 1998 Paolo again returned to Emilia-Romagna and worked in the kitchen with Chef Mateo Casadia. Upon returning to Ponchatoula, Paolo ran the kitchen of Ristorante da Piero. In 2004 Paolo and Piero re-located their restaurant to Kenner’s Rivertown. There they operated until 2016, when Papa Piero passed.
Paolo, however, never left Ponchatoula. He considered it his home. For over 10 years he drove to and from Rivertown nearly every day. In May 2016 Paolo and Emily, his wife of 18 years, opened Ristorante Foodies in the Gateway Building in the center of town.
Paolo describes his dishes as simple cuisine prepared on the principle that the flavor of the main ingredient is enhanced, but never overpowered, by seasonings and spices and garnishments.
The freshness of the ingredients is also key. Paolo insists that his New Orleans suppliers provide only fresh ingredients. And from his restaurant, Paolo has to walk only a block across the railroad tracks that bisect Ponchatoula for fresh vegetables and fruits at Berry Town Produce. And it’s only another couple blocks down Pine Street (Ponchatoula’s main street) to Harris’ Market for fresh Lake Maurepas catfish. Pasta is handmade daily in the pasta maker that belonged to Paolo’s father.
Paolo, Emily and their 8 children --- that’s right, 8 of them, ranging from 18 year old Dominick (who works in the kitchen with Paolo) to 6 months old Gianna --- live only 5 blocks from their restaurant. So Paolo is there night and day, living his dream. The man just loves to cook.