Massimo Sola, who once earned a Michelin star for a restaurant in Italy, is now the executive chef at Felina, the award-winning Italian restaurant on East Ridgewood Avenue in Ridgewood.
He has replaced Carlos Valdez, who had a short stint at Felina, which opened in 2019 with founding four-star chef Anthony Bucco.
“I’m putting all my skills into a beautiful new restaurant,” said Sola, 56, a Milan native, who has worked for the past 40 years in restaurants in Europe, the Middle East and New York. He also was, he said, a private chef for the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, and for rock superstars, including Beyonce, Rihanna and Madonna.
“I am bringing authentic Italian food to New Jersey,” Sola said, something he maintained is rare to non-existent in the state. “There is no contamination of cuisines from other countries in my cooking.”
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He is, in other words, no fan of American-Italian cuisine. His food is the food, he said, you’d find in Italy. Therefore, no meatballs and spaghetti (meatballs are eaten as a standalone or in soups in his native land); no chicken or veal parmigiana (it’s an American alteration of Sicily’s eggplant parmigiana); no garlic bread (bruschetta is Italian; garlic bread decidedly not); and no marinara sauce.
“The other night, a customer asked for marinara sauce,” Sola said. “We don’t have marinara sauce. We have tomato sauce. Marinara is the name of a pizza with tomato sauce.” And he refuses, he said to make it.
“It’s not me,” he said. “I cook real Italian.”
Among the dishes that he has introduced at Felina are bucatini cacio e pepe that he said he makes without any cream or butter but pasta water (“The pasta water makes it creamy; it’s wow”); his grandma’s lasagna, which he makes with five layers of thin egg-yolk pasta (“For every pound of flour, I use 24 eggs”); mussels fra diavolo (“I get the best quality mussels from Maine”); and branzino acqua pazza, where the fish is poached on one side only in “very rich water” that includes anchovies, white wine, olive oil, capers, oregano and cherry tomatoes. “It is amazing,” he said. (Acqua pazza is Italian for crazy water.)
He also offers a Napoleon for dessert that contains homemade puff pastry filled with pastry cream and saffron and topped with housemade red fruit jam. “People love it,” he said.
Sola’s restaurant Quattro Mori in Varese, Italy, which he owned with his ex-wife from 1993 to 2009, garnered a Michelin star in 2007. He closed Sola and went on to work as executive chef at Michelin two-star Ristorante Arquade in Verona. In 2012, he became the executive chef at Eataly in Rome. Eataly is a chain of large-format Italian marketplaces comprising of a variety of restaurants, food counters, bakeries retail items. In New York City, chef Mario Batali, now disgraced by the #MeToo movement, was only a minority investor in the operations, but was tightly associated with the brand.
“Eataly in Rome was the biggest Eataly in the world,” Sola said. “We made $72 million in revenues our first year, which is more than New York City ever made.”
He came to New York City in 2015 and opened Mamo, a French-owned restaurant with Italian fare, in SoHo. In 2016, Sola won the Il Primo Manhattan competition for New York’s best pasta dish. He went on to become the executive chef at The Fireman Hospitality Group, which owns, among other restaurants, Cafe Fiorello, Trattori Dell ‘Arte and Redeye Grill.
“I’m excited to be at Felina,” he said, “to cook my food.”

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