Chef Domenica Macchia is no longer a chef without a country (despite her most recent Best of the Bay award). Next week she’s officially taking over Dough, the bakery and bistro owned by Datz’s Roger and Suzanne Perry in South Tampa.
“A chef without a kitchen isn’t a chef,” Macchia told CL. “Without a kitchen, I’m just a girl who sits at home with nothing to do.”
It’s been a long year for Macchia. Since her unceremonious departure from St. Petersburg’s Three Birds Tavern last year, there have been ups but mostly downs. The last time CL wrote about her, she was working at Beak’s Old Florida briefly before being sued for breaching the non-compete agreement with her previous employer (which prevented her from working at competing Pinellas County restaurants until 2014). She was unemployed and underground. Like Hansel and Gretel, Macchia kept dropping truffle-oil breadcrumbs for us to find, as she went deeper into the woods of legal woes.
“I lost my house, I lost four of my five dogs,” Macchia told CL last week. “It’s my ultimate guilt, losing my dogs. It was like a bad movie.”
She still tears up when she talks about giving up Jack, Cooper, Zoe and Doug, though she still has her beloved Italian Greyhound, Swanky.
Her case captured statewide attention in legal circles, and contract lawyers were eager to see if courts would uphold the non-compete agreement. Fort Lauderdale-based non-compete lawyer Jonathan Pollard wrote regularly about the case on floridanoncompetelawyers.com, and had predicted that the non-compete agreement wouldn’t hold up in court. But it did.
“The precedent has been set,” Pollard said. “But on the law, this should be unenforceable. There’s no legitimate business interest at stake. But you have to have the money to fight in a case like this.”
Last week, when we spoke with Macchia, it was to announce her taking over as chef at Primi Ristorante Italiano in St. Pete after settling with Three Birds. Less than 72 hours later, she called after meeting with Perry to announce she’d be running her first Tampa kitchen. Primi, understandably, was less than thrilled, but Macchia stayed on for two weeks and found a replacement. Michael Cecere, former chef-owner at Bowled, will be taking over at Primi when she starts at Dough next week.
“I wasn’t actively looking for someone and she appeared,” Suzanne Perry said of the move. “Dough is a baby and we haven’t been able to catch our stride. She’s a perfect fit and I told her to make it hers.”
Macchia had been on Kim Bailey’s Food Talk radio show the day before and Perry reached out. They hit it off immediately when they discovered a mutual bacon infatuation.“She’s so passionate about food,” Macchia said of Perry. “She’s proud of her business and she should be.”
Few friends and colleagues pitched Macchia the idea of going to Tampa, mostly because she’s been exclusively a St. Pete chef.
“In the seven years I’ve lived here, I’ve been to Tampa a total of six times,” Macchia said. “But I’m not a kid anymore, I want security. The drive wasn’t bad at all. I hope I can convince others of that, too.”
Dough — half-bakery, half-bistro — opened in April next to big sister restaurant Datz. Perry hopes Macchia’s presence will solidify the menu. “Dough is so young, moldable, and shapeable,” Perry said. “All the focus has been on the bakery, but it’s a restaurant and it has a savory side.” Macchia is already devising a menu and is anxious to get into a “real” kitchen again. Yes, the duck fat fries made famous at the briefly open Diner 437 are slated for a comeback.
“It was her menu at Diner 437 we were looking at when we were opening Datz,” Perry said. “I didn’t connect the duck fat fries and that it was her all those years ago. But I was watching her even when I didn’t realize it.”
Macchia is looking forward to getting her hands on some of the equipment on-site, including the smoker, sausage maker, and possible new pizza oven. She’s talking about making her own rabbit sausage, using her Gorgonzola sauce in cheesecakes, and adding seafood to the menu.
“I don’t have to carry duct tape in my kit anymore,” Macchia said. “I’ve got access to farms. This is a real kitchen. It’s not about just getting a menu done that is simple, it’s about doing it better.”
And no, she won’t be signing any more contracts anytime soon. She says the Perrys laughed when she asked about it.
“This might be perfect or she might want the hell out of here,” Perry said. “Even if it doesn’t work, it’ll be a good change for her and a breath of fresh air for us.”
It’s still hard for Macchia to believe that the worst is over, that she has a job and doesn’t have to hide or give up.
“After this year, I’m broken,” Macchia said. “I am broken. It’s the one-year anniversary of me feeling dead inside. I have a skip in my step again.”
And she gets to learn again.
“I am finally going to become a great baker,” Macchia said. “I feel so renewed because I finally get to learn again. That’s what being a chef is all about.”