The Crazy Cook has returned to the Valley.
And by "Crazy Cook," we mean Peter DeRuvo, the talented chef who's been associated with most of the top Italian restaurants in this town at one time or another. For the past year or so, he's been working as corporate executive chef for Chicago-based Francesca’s Restaurants Group, splitting his time between the Valley and the Windy City. Now, he's back.
Most recently, you might have tried his excellent focaccia di recco at the short-lived Davanti Enoteca, and prior to that, you may have enjoyed DeRuvo's handmade pastas at Prado, Sassi, or Cuoco Pazzo. It's the last spot that bears the most significance on DeRuvo's arrival at EVO in Scottsdale — because, of course, the restaurant is located in the same Old Town space that once housed the restaurant named "crazy cook," or Cuoco Pazzo.
It's funny how circular life can be, right?
But if the space is the same, the chef is not. This time around DeRuvo's not peddling some highly conceptualized restaurant with a trendy name. Three years and three kids later, he says he's ready to focus more on the food and less on himself.
"Chefs are generally the most temperamental people," DeRuvo says. "But I'm like, dude, I have three kids and I want to cook great food and support them. There's so much rhetoric that goes with being called an Italian [restaurant]. I just want it to be called good."
The chef, who joined the EVO team about three months ago, already has made significant changes to the menu. Though EVO fans will find some of the most popular dishes intact, DeRuvo says he's spent time improving existing dishes and adding new ones to the mix. He wants to focus on pastas — already there are about 13 types of freshly made pasta on the menu — and offer specials and small plates that challenge diners to try something new.
DeRuvo fans will be happy to hear the chef's also brought some of his most well-loved dishes to EVO with him. That includes dishes such as his crispy duck, orrechiette, and — wait for it — the focaccia di recco made famous at Davanti Enoteca. He's not calling it that exactly, but says assuredly that "if you ask for focaccia, I'll get you focaccia."
So what have you been up to?
Well, basically I was the only one who survived that [Davanti Enoteca] debacle — well, it wasn't really a debacle. It was just underfunded. In order to make solid numbers, we had to be doing about $60,000 to $70,000 a week. Just to pay back the note. In nine months, we did $1.5 million, and it still wasn't enough.
Did you have any hesitation about coming back to this location?
Well, no. I think one thing that deters us from anything is our fears. I had no fear because it's only food, but at the same time, some people do it better than others. When I came in, I was like, “Okay, cool. We can work with this.” It wasn't like it was ever difficult. It was just like, holy shit, DeRuvo is here and I'm like, “Yeah. What's wrong with that? Can I make better food than there was before? Yeah.” I mean, you always learn from your mistakes and I just think that Cuoco Pazzo and some other places that I've worked at haven't gotten their due because of other situations that have been out of my control. And when I let go of a lot of those fears and a lot of the ego things just opened up. And then having three kids always helps.
So this place had been open for a while before you came on board, right?
Yeah, they'd been here for about a year and a half. Or a year and three months, but the feel of the neighborhood joint had . . . lost its charm. The only thing that I think has made this place survive has been as the underground industry place that it always has been.
I feel like there's been a resurgence now. There are always specials. I'm always here until 1:30 a.m. I'm always cooking. We do actually do the focaccia. It's not really called focaccia — I'm calling it, like, cheesy flatbread, you know. But it's all homemade pastas. There are 13 homemade pastas on the menu right now, and I want to do more. I want to be, like, the pasta place. My goal is, there are 20 different regions in Italy and each pasta [on the menu], I want to represent a different region.
Was it hard to come back, fully, Phoenix after having one foot in Chicago?
In the beginning I thought it was going to be hard because, you know, everyone wants to be liked, everyone wants to be accepted. But, like, I've always been here. It's not like I had to raise my hand and say, I'm here. I think it's just more of a situation where I was looking around for a spot and it was an organic thing.
And I just think that I've seen a lot more, and I've learned to appreciate what I've seen. So dishes that I did 10 years ago are now coming to fruition. So let's say, an additional 10 years from now there will be even a wider range and that's the way the mental process is in general. Cause you're never going to know everything, but you can always go back to your mental Rolodex.