Chef News

Chris Costantino Wants You to Try His Grandma's Sauce

In Chef Chat this week we introduce to you Chris Costantino of Costantino's Kitchen.

After years working in the corporate world, Costantino decided to pursue what he loved most: cooking food. In 2003, he graduated from Scottsdale Community College's culinary arts program and turned his passion into a business by making handmade batches of his grandmother's pasta sauce.

Today, we're getting the backstory on the recipe that's been passed down in Costantino's family for more than five generations.

Before hitting the escape button on the world of suits and ties, Costantino was working at Radio Shack and feeling "not so happy with [his] career." So when someone encouraged him to find something he truly enjoyed, he knew where he wanted to turn.

"I always loved cooking," says Costantino. "Growing up, my mom was a CPA, so during tax season, it was basically fend for yourself, I hate to say. So I kind of learned it. I was a big Food Network fan even before Food Network [got popular], watching shows like The Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook. I just enjoyed it so much."

He ended up back doing nine-to-five for "eight wasted years of my life." He tried his hand at everything from food writing to the restaurant biz, but nothing seemed to fit quite right.

"I did basically an interview where I had to work in a restaurant for a day -- that was the interview. And I determined, yeah, this isn't for me. In one day. Made it easy."

But even though he returned to the desk, his heart always stayed in the kitchen. It wouldn't be for another eight years until Costantino would be able to return full-time to the food world.

His golden ticket: a family recipe he learned from his Grandma Angie.

"This is a sauce I always had growing up," says Costantino. "My grandma was born in San Peitro Avellana, a little town east of Rome, in 1919. She just turned 93 years old, so she's still around. I remember trying to learn the recipe when I first wanted to learn it, and she was like, 'Well I don't really have a recipe. It's a little of this, a little of that.' So, I had to watch her actually make it four or five times before I got it down, and still every batch I make, I just have to taste it. Because I know what it's supposed to taste like, and sometimes the onions aren't as sweet and stuff like that. Many a Christmas dinner was started from that sauce."

"I work three times as many hours, for a third the salary and 20 times more fun," he jokes. "For my sanity, it was worth it."

Eventually, he hopes to expand his line of sauces and rubs and open his own Italian grocery and deli. For now, he hopes to get Grandma Angie's sauce on the shelves at AJ's and Whole Foods markets in the Valley.

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