Industry Insiders: Danae Cappelletto, Wizard of Oz

Australian restaurateur Danae Cappelletto opened New York eatery Travertine early last year, an arduous process she once described as “a gladiator sport.” But Cappalletto slew the tiger, and now she has her very own modern, sleek, candlelit Mediterranean restaurant in a building that housed the popular mafia hangout Little Charlie’s Clam Bar until it shuttered in 2007. Once she settled on the space in Manhattan’s NoLita, she’s been collecting accolades for her award-winning investment ever since. The granddaughter of famed Australian chef Giuseppe R. Cappelletto, is finally making a name for herself.

Go-to places: Al di Là, this old school Italian place in Brooklyn, for their cheese plate, shaved fennel salad and squid ink polenta. Moustache for their tabbouleh and falafel. Estiatorio Milos for a special fine-dining treat. I like Apothéke for the amazing infusion and La Esquina for the tequila.

On her idols: Donatella Arpaia. I sent her a message on Facebook inviting her to the restaurant. She came, and is completely amazing. She’s such a strong woman in the business.

On getting to know the family biz: My grandfather was a big chef in northern Italy. That’s where my family’s from originally. When they came to Australia, they opened a series of restaurants. My father is an amazing cook. He made all the food for the banquets they would do. It’s just in my blood. We had a veggie garden and we’d pick the vegetables and bring them in for cooking. This has always been my mentality.

On getting her start: I started working for a company called The Merivale Group, a big hospitality company in Australia, as a bartender. I just love working with people. Then worked my way into managing and established their biggest venue for them, as well as did special events. I left that company to get into the more elegant side of things with a venue space called the Tea Rooms. I opened a place for them that had a panoramic view of the harbor. The place was just stunning. They did weddings, events, and had a fine dining restaurant. It won a whole bunch of awards — one being for the best wedding event center.

On finding the right city: I was supposed to move to Greece to do events for the Belvedere Hotel in Mykonos. Before I was to start I came to New York for a visit with my brother and fell in love with the city and couldn’t leave; I love it so much. I arrived on the evening of Halloween of 2006. I had to call and tell them I wasn’t coming. I couldn’t leave New York. I also reconnected with my brother, and we made a pact we were never going to live in different cities anymore.

On being self-sufficient: I got a job that would sponsor me for a green card, but eventually decided that I wanted to have my own restaurant and I quit my job to do it. I was eventually able to sponsor myself.

On finding the perfect location: I spent ten months trolling Manhattan for the right location. Everything here is part of my vision.

On the name: Travertine is a rock that grows. It just seemed like the perfect name.

What’s next? For spring, we’ll open the expanded space downstairs at Travertine for reclining dining.

Bottoms Up: Amanda Lepore’s Taste Test at Apothéke

New York nightlife sensation and David LaChapelle muse Amanda Lepore tipples some whimsical (and surprisingly healthy) concoctions from Chinatown’s exotic Apothéke den, adding new favorites to her already worldly palate.

STRAWBERRY FENNEL Fennel-infused vodka with fresh organic strawberries, in a homemade Valencia orange essence. “This is good, not obnoxiously sweet like a Sex on the Beach. It tastes fruity and tropical, like it’s good for you. I usually shop at health-food stores, and when I’m out and not celebrating with champagne, I’ll have vodka with club soda, a wine spritzer or water. This tastes really healthy. I’d drink this on a yacht, maybe.”

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RHUBARB ROUGE Homemade rhubarb-and raspberry infused Cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane based rum) with homemade hibiscus syrup, “a natural antidepressant.” “I feel happy already… happy and horny. And I definitely taste the hibiscus, which is great, because I love flowers. This reminds me of getting flowers from an adoring gentleman. You should send a few glasses over to the guys at the bordello across the street.”

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THE MARIE ANTOINETTE Organic heirloom Muscat grapes with homemade elderflower syrup, vodka, fresh lime and rosé champagne. “I feel like my hair’s getting higher! This is not like a Cosmopolitan—it’s like having a dessert with natural ingredients.”

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LAVENDER FIELDS Lavender-infused tequila with fresh lime and organic sugarcane. “This is actually the best tequila drink I’ve ever had. It takes me to a wild party: people hanging from the chandeliers, Lady Gaga in concert, and a room filled with hot boys, beautiful girls, lots of gay guys and lots of celebrities. I’m really fond of lavender. As a kid, I always ate those lavender candies because they reminded me of eating perfume.”

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THE HEMINGWAY SPECIAL “A high-class mojito” with torn Israeli mint, homemade bitters, 12-year aged Guatemala rum and fresh lime juice. “A mojito can be really refreshing, but it can also mess you up. I could see myself drinking these in Barcelona. I opened for Grace Jones there last summer. I drank Cristal with her. I don’t usually drink too much, but I’ll have a cocktail to celebrate or I’ll have tequila to stimulate. It’s not really a good idea to be teetering around in five-inch heels.”

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THE MARGARITA “Very high-end” tequila mixed with Grand Marnier, fresh lime and Himalayan rock salt. “I’ve never been to the Himalayas, but I hiked in Hawaii when I was visiting David LaChapelle. Eventually, we got to the most beautiful beach, where I fantasized about doing a naked photo shoot—because I’m definitely a nudist, as you know—with diamonds, beautiful blond hair and pale skin on the black sand. Obviously, the ‘high-class aspect’ of this drink is appealing. Believe me, no one has ever offered to buy me a beer.”

Photography by Victoria Will