It's easy to see how Bianco and Sloane McFarland became fast friends, because they both speak the tough-to-translate language of the creative person. Bianco talks with great passion -- and a Bronx accent -- about how, when he moved to Santa Fe, he learned to cook in a way that respected the earth. He interacted with farmers who grow 15 different colors of eggplant.
"You become the conductor of human beings and their stories and their struggles and how do you translate that into a menu," he says. And when you bite into one of his pizzas, you understand, for just a moment, what he means.
Bianco left Phoenix for Santa Fe, but he came back. He grew up in New York and moved here in 1985, typically, after coming on vacation one January, and spent three months in culinary school before deciding that wasn't for him. He worked at different restaurants and wound up building a pizza oven and starting Pizzeria Bianco in the back corner at EuroMarket on Central and Camelback, which is now A.J.'s.
When A.J.'s bought EuroMarket, Bianco left for Santa Fe.
But he came back to start his restaurant. When he moved from 20th Street and Camelback to Seventh Street and Washington, Pizzeria Bianco got so popular that Bianco and his partner, Susan Pool, opened Bar Bianco, mainly to accommodate the customers willing to wait hours for a table.
Bianco had always wanted to open a bakery, and a place where he and his staff would have space to spread out and work. So when he met Sloane McFarland and saw the old beauty shop next to Lux, he was sold.
Pane Bianco is as perfect as a movie set. The concrete floors are polished, paintings hang on the walls, a pile of tomatoes is a work of art, accented by a simple glass of orange Gerber daisies. At 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, Bianco has been up for hours, although he won't open 'til 11. He stands at the concrete counter and fields calls, orchestrating deliveries.
"Pepper Man, what's up?" he hollers, arranging for a pepper delivery. Apple wood from Willcox burns in the oven behind him, and quietly, Bianco's kitchen workers tend to business.
Bianco says his restaurants are hard to find on purpose, and yeah, you might have to wait a long time to eat, but he'll make it worth it. Same with Phoenix, he figures.
"I love the fact that we might have to dig harder to find things," he says, loves that there's no map to the stars' homes. You have to go out and find it yourself.
And it's all about perspective, the chef adds. Look, he says, pointing to the picnic tables outside -- Pane Bianco's only official seating. You can either sit at a picnic table and complain about the traffic on Central Avenue, or you can sit at the picnic table and enjoy the view of Camelback Mountain. (And by the way, Bianco adds, these gorgeous handmade tables were crafted from spruce wood from an old bridge in northern California.)
Chris Bianco is particularly proud of the ironwork in Pane Bianco, created by a local sculptor named Pete Deise who Bianco met through Wayne Rainey.
Deise grew up in Phoenix, but moved to Los Angeles for a few years to pursue his art. He surfed too much, so he came home to concentrate on work. He has his studio in his house, downtown near the fairgrounds.
"I was really interested in pursuing art as a passion, really as a way of life. And when I was out there [in L.A.], I would say life really got in the way of art. It was more about living there," Deise says. "I came back here to nothingness."
Pete Deise is a regular fixture at Lux. He remembers the years when there was one arts venue in town at a time. Now, he says, there are depths, layers.
"Maybe it's just finally happening," he says. "I'm glad I'm here for it."
Deise doesn't like to take commissions. He works alone -- it's not ego, just that life's too short to work on someone else's ideas -- but he liked Bianco and his vision so much he acquiesced, designing the Pane Bianco sign and the interior ironwork.
That turned out to be a good career move for Deise. Bianco doesn't really like to talk about it, but he's pals with Jerry Colangelo. Deise explains that Bianco introduced him to Alvan Adams, who is overseeing the expansion of America West Arena, and Bryan Colangelo, Jerry's son. They asked Deise to design a trophy for the Suns, and offered him the opportunity to be the first to show his large sculptures in gallery space at the arena.