Italophiles Unite!

By Drew Altizer Photography

Romana Bracco, Flavia Martini, Dario Cecchini, Lorenzo Ortona, Alice Waters, Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem.

Museo Italo Americano Luncheon

Location: Tosca Cafe

Cause: Capital campaign to create “the preeminent cultural experience in the U.S. dedicated to Italians and Italian Americans.”

When the Museo Italo Americano kicked off its capital campaign at Tosca Café on January 12, the mood inside the legendary North Beach hot spot was buoyant, to say the least. How could it not be, with a room full of San Francisco royalty seated family-style and the world’s most famous Italian butcher belting Dante from atop a chair in his sonorous Tuscan voice?

Headlined by the incomparable Dario Cecchini — the world-famous “Butcher of Panzano” and Netflix celebrity — and his Bay Area–native wife, Kim, the event offered smiling guests a veritable concerto for the senses, the perfect setting for the launch of what promises to be the foremost cultural experience in the United States dedicated to the various artistic, civic and cultural contributions of Italians and Italian Americans.

Dynamic Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona and his wife, Sheila, joined Museo director Paola Bagnatori and Italian Cultural Institute Director Annamaria Di Giorgio in convening the group of benefactors and Italophiles, who enjoyed porchetta “Panzanese” on a Sunday afternoon while getting a sneak peek at the soon-to-be-reopened Tosca Café.

“The idea is to do what Italians do: be together at the table on a Sunday, to cherish life and friendship, and look into the future remembering the past,” said Ortona.“That’s exactly what we are doing today.”

Culinary titans Alice Waters (knighted last year by the Italian president) and BFF Ceclia Chiang joined champions of the arts such as Maria Manetti Shrem and former SFMOMA chairman Stephen Oliver (a key Museo backer) in the kickoff celebration. The Tuscan feast was punctuated by occasional blasts from Cecchini’s four-belled horn, which Russ Parsons of the LA Times once described as having “the pleasant melodiousness of a Brazilian vuvuzuela or a demented Fiat.”

As the Museo’s capital campaign director Mecca Billings worked the crowd, assembled guests including District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and Denise Hale mingled with Tosca chef Nancy Oakes and her business partner in the Tosca reboot, the irrepressible Anna Weinberg.

With its capital campaign, the Museo will establish itself as the largest institution of its kind in the country while returning to its historical roots in North Beach, where it was founded in 1978. When benefactor Jerome Cocuzza left the building at 940 Battery Street to the museum upon his death in 2010, it was unclear whether the institution would move from Fort Mason, where it has rented space for more than 30 years, or simply sell the asset. Since then, the neighborhood around the building has changed rapidly, welcoming the Exploratorium, the new cruise ship terminal, and countless creative agencies and tech firms dotting the blocks between bustling Levi’s Plaza and The Battery.

Following a sparkling $25 million renovation by acclaimed San Francisco architect Mark Cavagnero, the new Museo will become the newest cultural jewel in the City’s crown, featuring three floors of rotating exhibits and a new permanent exhibit that tells the stories of Italian immigrants and their families that have made important contributions to California and American history. In addition, the reconfigured building will boast two floors of highly desirable commercial office space, the rents of which will help defray the cost of operating the museum.

In bocca al lupo!

Alice Waters
The luncheon was, naturally, family-style.
Doreen Woo Ho, Dario Cecchini, Denise Hale and Lorenzo Ortona
Nancy Oakes
Maria Manetti Shrem and Anna Weinberg
Lorenzo Ortona and Fedele Bauccio

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