What's happening at Noca these days? The better question may be what isn't.
Eliot Wexler, owner of the venerated restaurant in the Biltmore area, tells me that, in March, executive chef Claudio Urciuoli went to San Francisco to further his baking skills at the San Francisco Baking Institute. That decision, along with wanting more time to be with his family, changed Urciuoli's role from executive chef to bread and pizza consultant for Noca as well as Nocawich, the restaurant's sandwich-centric lunch concept.
"He [Urciuoli] would rather eat a piece of bread in olive oil than food," Wexler says. "He's following his passion right now, focusing on the heritage grain breads we've been utilizing at the restaurant."
Wexler goes on to say that Urciuoli (who was the chef at Noca for 14 months) will sell his artisan bread at Valley farmers markets, make it available for restaurants to purchase, and may even do a pizza pop-up restaurant.
"We have a large contract in the works," Wexler says of his partnership with Urciuoli. "I can't say what it is right now, but if it works out over the next two months, it's going to be huge."
As for Urciuoli's replacement as executive chef, Wexler says he can't say who it is because the chef has not yet given notice to his current employer.
In the meantime, the restaurant (currently open for lunch only) is undergoing major renovations, with Wexler bringing on architect and designer Daniel Germani, whose clients include Postino Central and the Windsor, to head up the project.
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Wexler plans to open the newly remodeled Noca (with its new chef) in November.
As for Nocawich, a second location is currently operating at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 4 and on Tuesday, October 22, a third Nocawich will open at US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.
Stay tuned for details.