By Claudie Benjamin

A celebratory dessert recipe for the holidays? Tiramisu tastes as good as it looks. It’s made of easy-to-find ingredients: eggs, sugars, lady-finger biscuits, mascarpone, coffee, and cocoa.  It promises and delivers an outstanding reward with every bite. You might wonder about the origin of this superlative confection that most Italian Americans remember first tasting in their grandmother’s kitchen. According to the Accademia del Tiramisu, the legend entwined with the history of the dessert places its origin “in a house of pleasure in Treviso,..”  Regarding the name Tiramisu, “The word Tiramisù literally means “pick me up.” It comes from the Treviso dialect, “Tireme su”, Italianised into Tiramisù in the latter half of the 20th century. Historical records state that Tiramisù originated in Treviso in 1800.” According to the story, this aphrodisiac dessert was invented by a clever “maitresse” of a house of pleasure in the center of Treviso.”

Fast forward to the 21st century, around Valentine’s Day, 2022, when a Forbes article described an irresistible tiramisu along with a recipe, anecdotes, and preparation tips from Vittorio Assaf who co-founded the Serafina Restaurant Group with Fabio Granato.

The piece announced the publication of Serafina: Modern Italian Cuisine for Everyday Home Cooking by Rizzoli, which came out a few months later. In the book, too, the easy-to-make at-home recipe for this classic was included. The confection works for Valentine’s Day and is an evergreen option for New Year’s Eve or even New Year’s Day.

The recipes for many other Italian favorites were also included in the lush cookbook created by Assef and Fabio with writer Lavina Branca Snyder.  About 200 images of food illustrating the recipes were shot by photographer Mark Roskams, known for his images of architecture and interiors, as well as a number of luxe food/lifestyle books.

Asked about styling and photographing food, Tiramisu, for example, Roskams said what matters most to him is “using natural light and making it fun and funky.” By this, he means that rather than shooting a pristine dessert, he prefers the image to have an air of spontaneity; in this case, the photo of Tiramisu on page 284 shows the cream caught spilling appealingly over the top of the dessert.  “Chefs would bring out five or so plated dishes or a specific menu item, and we would choose the best looking.”

The book celebrated Serafina Restaurant Group’s achievements over 25 years, encompassing the opening of 30 restaurants, including UWS addresses: Serafina 105 at 2737 Broadway at 105th Street and Serafina Upper West 77th at 2178 Broadway at 77th Street. Other Serafina restaurants were established beyond New York in Padua, Istanbul, Mumbai, San Paolo, Tokyo, and many other cities.

Scores of Instagram posts appear on the co-founders’ websites to reflect their determination to appreciate life’s pleasures, along with a lot of laughter.

As Serafina history goes, in 1995, the co-founders, then young men, took a catamaran out in the Hamptons. They met up with bad weather. While struggling with the raging waves and wind, they feared for their lives. In those moments, they vowed to open a restaurant together if they survived.

Years later, after remarkable successes, a video clip posted on Vittorio‘s Instagram depicted the two friends kidding around as they dust a shared tiramisu with powdered cacao (photo above, Vittorio left, Fabio right). In an era of personal and global turmoil, they offer an inspiring demonstration of celebrating what’s sweet and good in life.


Serafina: Modern Italian Cuisine for Everyday Home Cooking is available on Amazon at Serafina 105 at other Serafina restaurant locations.

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