His Italian roots give Chef Giuseppe Ciuffa his quest for the best

Born in Ferrara, Italy, Giuseppe Ciuffa spent his early years watching his mother prepare dishes indigenous to Northern Italy. He spent many weekends with his family visiting farmers, winemakers, and cheese makers all over Emilia-Romagna.

At age 9, Giuseppe’s father retired from his post as an officer for the Carabinieri (state police) and moved his family back to their farm outside of Rome. Giuseppe’s helped his father make olive oil and wine and cultivate organic gardens. His mother opened a shop to sell the farm’s produce.

At 14, he decided to drop out of school and begin his career as a pizza boy in the town’s new restaurant. He knew then that the food industry was going to be his life. Next he moved to a family friend’s resort, the prestigious Hotel Punta Rossa, where he earned his hospitality stripes by working in every department to learn all he could.

To honor his father’s wishes, Giuseppe joined the Carabinieri at age 19. After 18 months as a “cop,” his passion for food took him back north to Trieste to work at Antico Café San Marco, where he soon became “the man in charge.”

In 1994, he came to San Diego to study English and enjoy some time off. But his sabbatical was short-lived, when he jumped at an opportunity to work for a partnership of restaurant professionals in the newly burgeoning Gaslamp District.

In 1998, Giuseppe decided to settle in La Jolla by purchasing the bakery, Come On In! Cafe. For the next five years, he helped grow the cafe, moving into new locations that included the Museum Café at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

After a few years, he changed directions again and sold his stake in Come On In! Cafe to create Giuseppe Restaurants & Fine Catering. Most recently, he opened the Sculpture Court Café at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

What brought you to La Jolla?

The same thing that brings everyone else to this wonderful place — the weather and the natural beauty. Once you land here, it’s hard to leave.

What makes this area special to you?

The international culture, the quiet environment, the elegance…

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in town?

I would definitely avoid construction on the roads during busy hours and during the busy summer months. (I guess many people feel the same about this.)

I would also solicit the city to send the street cleaning crew overnight to clean up the park at the Cove. After a busy weekend or one of the many events held at the park there is trash everywhere and that takes much of the beauty away, especially at sunrise.

Who or what inspires you?

My family, my dear friends, my employees, the list goes on …

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Of course my wife Salem, Sophia Loren, Silvio Berlusconi, Lance Armstrong, Mario Batali, Oprah, Luciano Pavarotti and Robin Williams.

Tell us about what you are reading.

Nothing special, I am still trying to finish a book that was given to me by a dear friend a few years ago (yes, a few years ago) and I am still reading the book …. one chapter at the time when I feel like I need a little push. The book is “Good to Great” by John Collins. Of course I read cooking books and cooking magazines on a regular basis.

What is your most-prized possession?

Tough question, I have so many … of course my family is the main one … I love my Vespa … I had my Rolex on my wrist since I was 18 … my family photos from when I was a little kid.

What do you do for fun?

I race triathlons; therefore I spend many hours training outdoors. I also teach spinning classes at La Jolla Sports Club on Sunday mornings and I spend a good amount of time cooking and eating with my friends and family on the weekends — that is the most fun! Whenever I have to teach a cooking class it is always fun as well.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

That would be being able to start my life and my career all over again once I moved here from Italy.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

I always end my newsletter or any script with this phrase: “Mangia Bene e Vivi Meglio” … Eat Well and Live Better … but my real motto for life is: Just follow your vision.