‘Reborn Italian cowboy’: Take a virtual trip to Italy with chef Tomaso Maggiore

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Tomaso Maggiore is well-known for his fresh approach to authentic Italian cuisine through his namesake restaurants in the Camelback Corridor and North Scottsdale.

He politely asks guests if he can briefly join them at their table at his year-old Tomaso’s When in Rome at Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads to chat about his entrees and his career.

Of course, dishes are delicious, including spaghetti cacio and pepe ($18), topped with coarsely ground black pepper and served in a parmesan cup; and the mix grill ($38), filet mignon, double lamb chops and homemade sausage.

What most people don’t expect is Maggiore’s sense of humor, especially when he traces his journey to America. “I originally came from Sicily in 1971,” he says. “We started in New York, and then I came here on vacation in the middle of winter. I fell in love with the place. I should have visited in July, first. I’m what you call a ‘reborn Italian cowboy.’ I’ve been here so long sometimes I think I introduced spaghetti to Geronimo.”

Everything about Tomaso’s When in Rome – and Tomaso’s on Camelback, for that matter – is fresh. It’s elegant, with white linen table clothes and napkins. Large windows allow natural light to pour in. Gracious and incredibly polite servers (ask for his nephew Giovanni) and assistants cater to guests. Artwork depicting hotspots in Italy line the walls.

Maggiore explores Italian dishes with traditional flair. “I like to try new things,” he says. “Ultimately, though, what works the best is the traditional Italian cuisine.”

Ask for his favorite dish and Maggiore adds a comedic twist to it. “It’s like asking me which one of my kids I like the best,” he says with a laugh. “I like everything.”

There are plenty of options. The rigatoni with grilled chicken and vodka sauce ($19) and linguine with clam sauce ($24) are traditional dishes. But entrees like cavatelli with filet mignon and veal Bolognese ($22) and Scottish salmon ($27) are Tomaso specialties.

Happy hour is from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and offers discounts on drinks and beer, bruschetta, eggplant roulade, rigatoni Bolognese, pasta norcina, fried calamari, grilled chicken Caesar salad and Amatriciana meatballs ($7-$10) are ready for consumption.

Maggiore travels abroad annually for “culinary awareness,” at least that’s what he tells his CPA, Maggiore says for a laugh. He collects recipes when he’s abroad and renews his inspiration.

“I go for three to four weeks a year,” he says. “I go up and down Italy. I love it. I’m always learning new things. I’m always thinking, ‘What can I do to make it better?’ To me, cuisine and cooking, that is the most satisfying.”

At When in Rome, Maggiore arrives at 6 a.m. to “do my thing.” He preps the food and the sauces, creates specials and experiments with possible new dishes.

“If you love food like I do, you’re always coming up with new ideas,” he says. “For example, I’m going to do a Sicilian pesto. Unlike the basil, garlic olive oil and pine nuts in Genoa up north. Mine is tomato with blanched almonds, basil and pecorino cheese blended together. It’s awesome.”

His handiwork doesn’t end at Tomaso’s and Tomaso’s When in Rome. His family is opening a restaurant in Tatum Ranch that will focus on country Italian cuisine, with a “great bar and beautiful patio.”

He’s taking advantage of the very reason he came to America. “It’s the land of opportunity,” he proclaims with his arms spread. “My first stop was New York, and I was very lucky to work with amazing Italian chefs. Why wouldn’t I move here?”

Tomaso’s When in Rome

23655 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 120, Scottsdale,