Today, we're back for part two of our interview with Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook in Arcadia. If you're wondering about the photo above, the fun-loving chef was channeling his inner Iron Chef during our photo shoot. Today, we chat with LaRosa about the possibility of a second restaurant (hint: Nook Pasta) and learn about his favorite food memory. If you missed part one of our interview, in which he talks about working with Gio Osso, you can read it here.
The mostly Italian-minded menu at Nook features dishes like chicken marsala, linguini and clams, and rosemary grilled salmon. A large part of the menu is dedicated to pizzas, which get wood-fired in the largest pizza oven in the state. If LaRosa is the one working the giant red oven -- you'll know him by his strikingly blue eyes -- it's a good idea to grab a seat at the bar and chat. Ask about the time he taught John McCain how to break down a tenderloin.
LaRosa catered for McCain for a year and a half, including during the senator's presidential campaign, though that was just one pit stop on LaRosa's long history in the kitchen.
"Everything revolved around food," LaRosa says of his family get-togethers growing up in Connecticut. "I was a fat little kid, too -- so I loved eating."
He remembers spending his allowance on ingredients to practice different recipes, and in high school, "all my friend were in, like, wood shop and I was in home ec sewing and making cupcakes," he says.
At 16, he started working at a pizzeria and, after high school, ran the kitchen at his cousin's bar and grill. After his cousin sold the bar, LaRosa decided it was time to enroll in culinary school. By his second year, he was a chef's assistant at Johnston and Wales.
Upon graduation LaRosa went to work in Cape Cod, landing a job at Willowbend Country Club, owned by former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman. During his time there, he met and cooked for a roster of notable athletes (ask him about the time he cooked for Michelle Wie), but after four years, he decided to move to Arizona to be near his mother.
He began at the bottom when he started with HMS Host just a few months after settling in Arizona -- even "turning to the dark side" for a while and working management in the front of the house. As the years went by, he continued to climb the corporate ladder, until becoming chef de cuisine under executive chef Gio Osso.
Even though he's out of that game, LaRosa still has plenty of ambition.
"We're just getting started," LaRosa says. "There are a lot of irons in the fire right now."
He and owners Frank Vairo and Tagan Dering already are scouting locations for a handful of other concepts they're thinking about opening. A Nook Pasta could be in the future, as well as a sports bar concept and some sort of quick, maybe even fast, food.
"I want to keep it all open," LaRosa says.
One ingredient you'd like to see used more: Swiss chard or rainbow chard.
One ingredient you're over: Kale.
The food trend you hope takes off in 2014: Molecular gastronomy.
Your favorite food memory or most memorable meal: Growing up, Christmas Eve at my uncle's house was amazing. We used to have fresh octopus and squid and everybody would be cooking. It influenced me to pursue my love of cooking.
Your favorite local restaurant and what you like to order there: To tell you the truth, I really don't have one. With the birth of my twins, I haven't had time to go out!
Your favorite drink and where you like to get it: Seven and Seven in my kitchen at my house.
Your personal mantra or catchphrase: You spend 80 percent of your life at work, so enjoy it.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go and what would you eat there?: Sicily, and I would eat as much pasta as I possibly could.
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Do you think children and/or babies should be allowed at upscale restaurants? If the kids behave themselves well, I don't see why it would be an issue.
What do you think about the new law that requires chefs and bartenders to wear gloves in California?: I think it's a good thing, but Cali isn't going to be around much longer with the radiation leaks out of Japan . . . just kidding! I don't see what the big hubbub is about. It's good, it's sanitary.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay