Francesco Mangano is the owner of Osteria Papavero.
As a chef, Francesco had the ideal childhood: he grew up cooking in Italy. His time was split between two regions, Emilia Romagna and Toscana. During the school year, he helped his grandmother with her restaurant, an osteria, in Bologna. Over the summer months, he spent time with his uncles who were fishermen on the Tuscan coast. As a child, he remembers cranking pasta machines and stuffing pasta rolls.
During college, he met his wife whom is a Madison native. For awhile, they traveled back and forth between Madison and Italy. In Madison, Francesco earned his culinary degree from MATC. After his graduation, he returned to Italy for a Masters in food, wine and tourism. In 2004, he made the final move to Madison. After working at several downtown restaurants including Harvest, Lombardino’s and Cocoliquot, he was asked by Cocoliquot owners to take over the space downstairs. In 2006, he opened Osteria Papavero.
Regions of Italy
As we talked, Francesco addressed the American tendency to lump all of Italy together into one homogenous cuisine. Instead of thinking of Italy as a country, it’s important to think of it as twenty regions pieced together. The menus featured at Osteria Papavero showcase dishes from the Toscana and Emilia Romagna regions of Francesco’s childhood.
Toscana cuisine features olive oil, legumes, fish, wild game, truffles and cured meats like prosciutto and soppresata. In the summer, you may enjoy panzanella, a refreshing salad that uses day old crusty bread and fresh produce.
Famous foods from Emilia Romagna include proscuiutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar.
An osteria is a precursor to the modern day tavern or wine bar. Papavero is the Italian word for poppy, a nod to its previous upstairs French neighbors, Cocoliquot.
With a focus on simple food and good wine, Osteria Papavero has established itself as a great neighborhood hangout, particularly for Madison foodies. All cured meats (prosciutto, salami, soppresata) are done in house. Francesco also makes all the pasta from scratch.
With menus that change seasonally and daily specials, there is always something new to try. Francesco combines local produce with Italian wines, olive oils and cheeses. The daily specials are based on seasonal Wisconsin foods. I was told you can’t miss the butterscotch pudding, so make sure to save room for dessert.
In August, Osteria Papavero will celebrate its 5th anniversary. With a low staff turnover, Francesco is proud that many have been there since the opening.
On August 21, Osteria Papavero will partner with Tempest and Underground Kitchen to offer a community event. Chefs from the three restaurants will work together to plan the menu and do the cooking. Tables will be set up along East Wilson and down one of the alleys.
Cooking as a Craft
I loved talking with Francesco. I couldn’t put my finger on why until he said “There is nothing artistic about cooking.” That’s right, it’s not an art. You take what has been done before and you copy it. You repeat it over and over. You may add some changes, may find another technique to use but it’s not about creating a piece of art but rather honing your skills. Cooking is a craft. A craft that, according to him, requires patience, resilience and hard work. He’s also quick to the point out that cooking is not for the faint of heart. You have to be able to learn from mistakes and not be discouraged.
I was struck with Francesco’s modesty. Here was one of the best chefs in Madison humbly telling me that he is not some elevated artist. He is a craftsman who loves what does. His passion carries through to the food and to the staff that has stuck with him for five years. For all of us new cooks, I think it’s a relief to know the power of patience and resilience in the kitchen.
Advice to New Cooks
Keep it simple. Francesco emphasized this multiple times as we talked about what he tell those just starting to learn to cook. Start with sandwiches. He pointed out that they had a simple BLT sandwich on the recipe. He swapped out pancetta for bacon and added avocado, but essentially it’s a BLT.
He also gave me two easy recipes to try at home. Check them out:
Osteria Papavero Information
Lunch, Monday through Friday: 11 am – 2 pm
Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 pm – 10 pm