David Lamberti: Lessons in translation

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A picture of David Lamberti and his wife. Used with permission of David Lamberti.

The University of Dallas is subtitled “The Catholic University for Independent Thinkers,” but perhaps there is more value to dependency than we would like to admit. Not only dependency on the classical tradition, but on the alumni who studied it before us. 

In speaking with David Lamberti — French major in the class of 2001 — the value of welcoming this dependence became clear. Lamberti, the entrepreneur, chef and owner of Lamberti’s Ristorante in MacArthur Park, invites students to feel comfortable practicing this idea of leaning into and leaning on. 

Operating a restaurant founded on his Italian heritage and a hundred years of family tradition, he knows very well that nothing comes from nothing. On the other hand, everything can come from actively participating in the experiential wisdom housed in the books, buildings and brilliant minds that populate this university on a hill. 

The student concerned with how his or her intellectual formation will “translate” into the workforce should go to Lamberti’s and take a look around. He or she would see the effects of a UD education in the food itself, in the service of the employees, some of them UD students, and particularly in the operations behind the scenes. It would be a mistake to think that the integrity of mind and soul that UD promotes have no relationship to the daily practice of a career. 

For instance, much of Lamberti’s actual work is composed of sourcing products, filing taxes, weighing guest preferences, navigating health codes or handling HR issues. He traces his proficiency in these tasks not only to his family and to his faith, but even to his language studies at UD. 

“There are so many things,” he said, “where that basis of language and interactive culture was imperative to my success.” Lamberti stressed this idea of non-literal translation. “Being a middle child helps a lot,” he explained, “because you can translate between the old and the new so to speak.” 

What Lamberti has done with his career is beautifully translate an all-encompassing western tradition into something even more valuable: the particular family tradition he carries on in his restaurant and personal life. 

When Lamberti spoke of his “career,” it was clear that he meant something distinct from the modern usage. Students can so easily forget that “[college] truly is the best time of your life to be career focused.” A career, in his words, should be a person’s driving force: “What is going to get you out of bed right now?” The definition he offers is free of judgment or pressure: it’s simply a balance of whatever you personally need and want, and everyone gets to determine for themselves what that may be. 

All the same, he reminds students of the value of loosening their holds on their independence, and of looking to those who went before. “[W]hen we’re young,” he said, “we decide we don’t really like to take a lot of advice … but maybe it’s the one time when we should all pause and say, ok, they’ve been here, they’ve done this. What’s the perspective?”

This advice is particularly applicable to the University of Dallas, he claims, where the formation of every student is the same whether they attended in the 1960s or are currently pursuing a degree. He hopes that students can find confidants, people in their life whose opinion they value, and genuinely consider following their advice. 

Lamberti has been out in the world for 25 years, running a business and raising a family. During that time, he grew to understand how much choices matter, particularly when it comes to living a Catholic life. 

Once again, the importance of translation returns. Students of the university learn the language of Catholic faith, but actually speaking it once they begin their careers, is a choice they have to make. 

If you learn one thing from Lamberti, let it be to look to your fellow translators, the past students of UD, for potential models of what you want now and where you want to be in the future. Begin reaching out, start conversations and let them be your spotlights. In other words, investigate the idea of an informed dependency.

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