Why Cheese Doesn't Belong In Vodka Sauce, According To Chef Mario Carbone

It would be impossible to talk about modern culinary icons without mentioning the name "Mario Carbone." Carbone Fine Foods' Spicy Vodka Sauce became available nationwide in September, and since then, the famous sauce from the NYC celeb-magnet restaurant has emerged as the star of countless "Carbone spicy vodka sauce hack" videos on social media. (Jars are available via the Carbone Fine Foods website, and National Vodka Day is coming up on October 4).

Chef Carbone visited the gourmet grocery store Citarella on 6th Avenue in Manhattan to share a bit more about his famous Spicy Vodka Sauce — including the fact that he regularly gets tagged in countless versions of these "hacks" and is annoyed to see that nearly all of them felt inclined to spice up their vodka sauce with cheese. "We don't put cheese in it," said Carbone. "We kind of frown on you at the restaurant when you ask for it, for the record."

It's not that the chef has a vendetta against cheese in pasta, it's that he doesn't see cheese as a universally necessary pasta ingredient. "I just don't think you really need it, it's a pretty rich dish by itself," he explains. "When our pasta comes, we immediately ask for cheese before we really even know if it needs it. I kind of yell at my parents about that, then they tell me they raised me and paid for my school, y'know."

Let the ingredients speak for themselves

A closer look at the ingredients behind his vodka sauce illuminates why the chef might get frustrated when home cooks feel the need to add cheese. Carbone vodka sauce is made in small batches from onions, chili peppers sourced from Calabria, and San Marzano tomatoes grown in volcanic ash in Italy. As chef Carbone shared at the Citarella event, he personally went to a field in Italy to pick the San Marzano tomatoes and meet the grower, "which was very emotional for me and the man that owned the field. After a couple of hours, he was crying when I left. A very emotional experience for all of us."

Even Chef Carbone's hero Bobby Flay puts cheese in his vodka sauce. In a TikTok, Flay made Carbone's spicy vodka rigatoni at home with girlfriend Christina Pérez, narrating "I'm gonna add a little Parmigiano Reggiano. I just can't help myself." But, if you ask Mario Carbone — if you can help yourself, by all means, you should. Quoth Carbone, "Bobby Flay likes to put cheese in it, I don't know why but he does."

At Citarella, the chef shared that when he and his business partner Rich were sharing an apartment in Manhattan's West Village, they tossed around the phrase "WWBD?" as in "What would Bobby do?" But, apparently, the answer to that question is "Bobby would put cheese in his vodka sauce," which by Chef Carbone's standards is a big no-no.