Hot off a Georgia Trend Silver Spoon award as one of the state’s best restaurants, Leoci’s Trattoria and its owner have raked in another major accolade in Savannah.
Roberto Leoci, who runs the 606 Abercorn St. eatery he opened in 2009, will be recognized as one of America’s top chefs March 1 in the inaugural Best Chefs America guide. Leoci was awarded the honor by a panel of some of the nation’s highest-profile foodies.
“When I saw my idol Paul Liebrandt alongside me — he owns Corton in New York City — I started going, ‘Oh my God,’” Leoci says of the Best Chefs pick, which he calls especially poignant “because it’s only voted by other chefs.”
It’s been a whirlwind several months for Leoci, who’s seen business at a level he calls “absolutely crazy” since winning the Silver Spoon. On the mid-week day I spoke with him, just after the lunch rush, his restaurant was already booked through 9 p.m.
He’s been invited to next month’s Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival as a featured chef, alongside “Top Chef” Kevin Gillespie and Orchid Paulmeier of “Food Network Star.” And Feb. 17, Leoci will be one of four chefs competing in the brand-new Iron Chef Savannah, hosted by local foodie Jesse Blanco, at the Southern Women’s Show.
“I don’t think there is anyone in this region that does more community minded work than he does,” Blanco says, calling Leoci “an obvious choice for our Iron Chef competition.”
“I’m not surprised that he is being recognized,” Blanco adds. “Some of the best meals I’ve had in Savannah have been at Leoci’s Trattoria. … The Olde Pink House, Circa 1875 and Andaz Savannah. You can’t have a true cross-section of Savannah’s culinary scene without including Roberto’s work.”
The building buzz should help Leoci do more than fill seats at his restaurant. It also will spotlight a new line of USDA-approved, handcrafted meats he’ll officially launch in a few weeks.
“It’s been over a year in progress,” Leoci explains. “We partnered with Hunter Cattle (in Brooklet). We’ll be at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. And Cisco’s gourmet line is picking us up.
“We’re gonna be able to sell our made-in-Savannah salamis nationwide. It’s really exciting.”
The line will include Leoci’s handmade pancetta, duck prosciutto and capicola.
“We’re slowly building our brand, our company,” Leoci explains.
Originally from Montreal, “a big food city,” Leoci fell in love with Savannah while making trips to visit his aunt in Florida.
“I used to be a snowbird,” he jokes, “and I’d stop here often along the way. I thought, ‘It would be great to move to Savannah.’ So I did.”
That decision is increasingly paying dividends, personally and professionally.
“It feels great to be a part of the beginning of a great food city,” Leoci says.