Chris Bianco Talks About His New Book, Culinary Empowerment, and Phoenix
It's 10:52 p.m. and Chris Bianco is still working. He's sending emails when most of the country has finished their shifts and are already deep in REM sleep. Bianco has no doubt already spent all day at one of his several restaurants, or maybe even all of them, and an hour short of midnight, he's still at it. Which makes it either all the more remarkable or all the more typical that he's tackled the major project of a cookbook.
"We are the measures of balance," he writes. "Crispy, chewy, thin, thick, spicy – how we like things is personal to understanding nuances, and how to get to those places and profiles is the roadmap of a journey." That's the vision for his new book, Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Foods I Like (Ecco, 2017), which will be released on Tuesday, July 25.
If that sounds like the musings of a man who rarely stops thinking, whose inner narratives are never paused by a comma or period, then you heard right. And his cookbook? It's not really a cookbook. It's more like spending the day with the James Beard-winning, Oprah-hailed, Jimmy Kimmel's fellow fly-fisherman chef who has stopped what he is doing to teach you how to cook something astounding in 15 minutes.
There are recipes for pizza, for meatballs, for focaccia, for Sunday gravy, beets roasted with fig leaves, custard, and lemon cookies. There's also Chris in every recipe; a story, an inspiration, a family tale. The book is more than a book; it's a Chris Bianco omnibus, taking a willing participant through the Candy Land of his restaurants, creations, and motivations.
"I tried my hardest with a limited skill set to one day leave this physical place better than I found it ... maybe just an inch," he says.
The narrative chronicles his career, which started in a small kitchen behind a grocery store in central Phoenix. He then dives into his relationship with sourcing, using the best ingredients possible, and his philosophy that food is a collective experience to be shared, modified, and fit to each individual who tackles a recipe.
"The book is about empowerment of our personal worth as it relates metaphorically through food," he explains. "And it already existed before you turned a page."
The magic potion for his pizza dough has been traversing the internet for about a decade, but those who have tried it know that while it's a great recipe, it really can't be replicated unless you have Bianco's oven, his flour, and whatever other magic it takes to make the pizza served at his restaurants. But, combined with entries like gnocchi, lasagna, and risotto, isn't he worried about giving away the store?
"I've always given up recipes or sources, letting transparency, and intention tell the story," he says. "Recipes to me are only notes, to make music is for us to find a genre that fits our person, and to play it with purpose and a whole heart."
And there's no favorite recipe. "I would like to, and do think, that they are all significant in their own way," he says. "Like your kids."
Speaking of kids, paging through Bianco's book, with its very personal narrative and staple recipes from Bianco's close-knit family, it easy to wonder if perhaps he had his children in mind as he compiled the chapters. It reads like a tribute or a legacy, for them and for us.
Bianco writes in his book that it was 30 years ago, when he was just a kid from the Bronx, that he won two free plane tickets to anywhere in the United States. For reasons that are still a mystery to him, Bianco chose Phoenix. Mesmerized by the sky during that first encounter, he returned. He made Phoenix his home and put the city on the culinary map with pizza that was dubbed by many to be the best in the country.
Which begs the question: Whose hometown boy is he? Does he belong to Phoenix, or to the Bronx?
"Finders keepers," he replies. "It's funny about where we are from. You think you know, then you spit in an ancestry.com cup and the dots start to connect. But there is always where you land and end up that has its influence and that gives you your accent. My wife, Mia, goes back three generations here; my kids were born here. Phoenix feels like home to me more than any place I've ever been."
So that settles it. He's ours.
Even at 6:45 a.m., the time stamp on the final email in our conversation.
Bianco: Pizza, Pasta and Other Food I Like, will be published on July 25. Chris Bianco will be reading at Changing Hands, 300 West Camelback Road, at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 31. Tickets are $34.99 and include one copy of the book and admission for two people.
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