Chris Bianco on One of the Most Under-Rated Chefs in America and What's Great About Italian Cooking in Italy
This is part two of my interview with Chris Bianco, chef-owner of Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco. If you missed part one, where Bianco dished about Jamie Oliver, the local chefs he most admires and awesome pizza, read it here.
See also: - -- 11 Best Pizza Spots in Metro Phoenix
Dish, trend or catch-phrase you wish would go away: Local and organic. I'm looking forward to the day when this is a way of life and not just a trend.
Your favorite cuisine, other than Italian: Mexican. It's the food I crave most when I travel. It reminds me of home.
Best food memory: Too many to list, but one that stands out: it was winter, about 1975. Walking home from school and winter's shorter days gave way to night, and my whole block was lit up for Christmas except for one house . . . mine. My brother and I got home a little earlier than my mom did from work (the electric company wasn't ever cool about waiting until Monday to cash the check). Anyway, when my mom walked in the door, instead of seeing the pitch-black house as any inconvenience, she saw a perfect night to cook the unintentionally defrosted London broil in the fireplace. So my brother and I got a fire going, pinned the London Broil in the grill basket and we held it over the fire until it reached charred and bloody perfection. That and a few baked potatoes wrapped in foil, stuck in the corner of the fireplace, a few hurricane candles and happy days. Who needs electricity?
National/international chef (other than Jamie) you admire: Marc Vetri. He has given the city of Philadelphia some of the best Italian food on the planet and the work he does with Alex's Lemonade Stand is one of the most inspiring contributions of best intention that I have ever witnessed.
How has your life changed, now that you have restaurants in the UK?: I spend lots of time in the air. It's forced me to carve out time for things that truly matter.
How is the Brit pizza-eater different from the American pizza-eater? Have you had to adapt the menu?: I don't think the pizza-eater is different. The pizzas we do there were adapted to celebrate farmhouse English cheeses instead of Italian cheeses and we use forgotten heritage English wheat. It's a study in using what's in your backyard to make something we all recognize, but the deeper you dig, the provenance of ingredients is closer than you think.
Other than your own pizza, what's the best pizza you ever ate?: I don't really believe in best, but I do believe in favorites and I don't have just one. The pizza I had in Liguria that was made with Parmigiano Reggiano and pine nuts blew my mind and inspired the Rosa that has been on my menu for the last 20 years. The best pizza is the one you love best not the one me or anyone else tells you is the best.
How did you get interested in sourcing?: Ever since I started reading the back of cereal boxes as a kid, I wanted to know what was in things, what made good things good.
Has your style/aesthetic changed in the past 20 years?: What style?
What's the hardest part about writing a cookbook?: Knowing what people might find interesting.
What has it been like working with Gary Nabhan?: Luckily, Gary and I work on a lot of things, the book being one of them. He is the ultimate Renaissance man, a true friend of the farmer and the planet's patriot of all that is good.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: My mother's meatballs when they were crispy before they went into the sauce.
Favorite thing to eat now: My mother's meatballs when they are crispy before they go into the sauce.
Describe what your team members bring to the Bianco Group table: Marco -- the best brother you could ever have, always has my back. Robbie -- the rock, always the Mona Lisa smile, Mr. Get It Done. John -- uber-talent, understands the gifts of the desert and how to bring them to the plate.
Culinary mentor and what you learned from that person: Gianni Scorzo. The three years I worked with Gianni in Santa Fe were easily the most influential of my career. I've said many times, he's one of the most under-rated chefs in the country. He taught me the difference between Italian and Italian American and that the customer isn't always right.
You've spent a lot of time in Italy. What culinary wisdom have you taken away from those visits?: Witnessing their respect for season and their sensibility, the lack of needing to invent the next great dish, and the great honor of celebrating the past by sharing with past, present, and future generations.
Do you consider Italian Restaurant an Italian-American restaurant, an Italian-Italian restaurant or a little of both?: I see it as an Italian-inspired, American Trattoria. It's like when people ask me if my pizza is Neapolitan. My answer is, anything outside of Naples is an inspiration. With techniques and recipes, we become a link in the chain not the chain itself. I love Italy, and I am so proud of my family's history, but I am equally proud of where I am now. I do the best I can to not embarrass either.
Super-simple salad with Gorgonzola, red onion, crunchy bread crumbs
Has Italian Restaurant become the restaurant you envisioned it to be?: It's evolving daily. Restaurants are like puppies. They can be cute and cuddly, but they need to be loved and nurtured. In our world of instant gratification, sometimes it's hard to understand that great things take time. But it's a marathon, not a sprint, and we are in this for the long haul. With that being said, I couldn't be more proud of the direction we are headed. It really is a special place.
Dish you're most proud of or like the most at Trattoria Bianco: John Hall is just killing it right now. Throw a dart at anything on the menu right now, and it's fucking delicious.
Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: Spaghetti, olive oil, garlic and chili.
What should be written on your head stone?: Plays well with others.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
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