Phoenix has crazy love to thank for Chef Guido Saccone's pizza and pasta at Cibo Urban Wine Cafe & Pizzeria.
Saccone, who was born outside of Naples, fell in love with an American girl working in Tuscany for the summer, who just happened to be from Mesa. A love story straight out of a fairy tale lead the Italian chef to Arizona.
Today, Guido talks about his cooking roots, the romantic first date in a cave that spawned a wedding feast to be remembered, and the reason he can't wait for Christmas this year.
Plus, he dishes on his favorite places in Italy (including the church steps at 3 a.m.) and why he wants to go to the American South for a taste of southern hospitality.
How did you get your start as a chef? A long, long time ago, my brother had a restaurant in Caserta, which is where I'm from. I was going to school, and I always had a passion for food and cooking. My parents would go traveling a lot, so it was up to us kids to cook a little bit more. Although, my mom is a great cook. I started helping out my brother to make extra money in high school. A couple years passed by, and I started learning how to make pizza. Then my brother started to open another restaurant. Then one Friday afternoon he said, "Well, Guido, now you're on your own. I'm going to go to the new restaurant, and you'll be here by yourself."
How did you wind up in Phoenix? In 2002, I was working in Tuscany. And my wife, she's from Mesa, decided to go work in Tuscany and ended up working at the same restaurant I was working at. We met the first night she came to Italy and started dating pretty much right away. After that, we started going back and forth between Italy and here.
Did you go on any romantic dates in Tuscany? Yes. Our first date was in a restaurant made out of a cave. It wasn't a huge cave, but it was made out of a hole in a mountain, so it was all exposed rock. The only thing they served was cheeses and wine. I didn't speak any English at the time, and she didn't speak any Italian. It was a little tough, but it was pretty romantic - without going into any details. It was fun. We would go to the beach and have dinners there. It was a great time. Like we always say, we have a great love story.
Most memorable meal? The meal of a lifetime was actually when we got married in Italy. We started with some zucchini flowers, because we got married in the summer when they're in season. They had platters and platters of these zucchini flowers, golden brown and all smoking. It was kind of an intimate wedding, so we had a big table for like 25 people. Then we had some pasta. The servers came out with these huge platters - I'm not kidding; they must have been the size of this table. - so two people were carrying these huge platters of homemade pasta with seafood. They were just showing it off and serving people, and that was the best pasta ever, partially, probably, because I was getting married with my wife, beautiful by my side.
What do you miss most about Italy? Going to different places without the car, just taking a walk or meeting with friends in the little square on the church steps and having a beer. It's not that hard to drink outdoors in Italy. You just meet people at 3 o'clock in the morning. If you go in the square, it's like 400 people, groups of friends.
Where do you like to visit back home in Italy? We usually go to Naples, where most of my family is based, but we always try to make a stop in Tuscany, because that's where me and my wife, Michelle, met. It's such a beautiful place, so I would probably say Florence.
What are the hardest Italian ingredients to find in Phoenix? I love Italian saffron, and here you only find Spanish saffron. It's hard to find oo-flour, and I do find it because I use it for my pizza, but the plain oo-flour you can't find it anywhere. You would think Whole Foods would carry it, but they don't. That's the best flour to make pasta with too.
If you could travel one place for food, where would you go? I'd go to the Southern United States because I've never had that kind of food. It would be interesting just to try something different. Plus, I haven't moved much around the U.S.
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Favorite family memory? It's definitely Christmas. We have a big family, so we would get together every year at a different family member's house. Imagine like 30 people getting together. Plus, we had this endless dinner. I remember it starting at 5 o'clock until midnight. It was ridiculous. It's probably why I can't stand sitting at the table now: When I'm done eating, I got to get up. It was fun though.
Are your kids antsy about Christmas? Yes they are. My daughter and I pretend play that Santa Claus is coming like twice a day. She says, "Shhhhh... Santa Claus is coming!" It's kind of her first year really knowing what's going on. I'm excited; I love Christmas! My mom is here, and my sister, my brother, his wife and their two kids are coming, so we'll have a big Christmas dinner. It's going to be great.
What's the best way to end a big Italian meal? Limoncello. Especially in the summer: It's lemon flavor and there's grain alcohol in it. It's a very good digestif, and it's delicious. We actually make it here at Cibo.
Check back tomorrow for more about Saccone's forays into pizza making and his pasta obsession. And check out a Saccone family recipe Thursday.