When Chef Gio Osso graduated high school and told his parents that he wanted to go to culinary school, they weren't surprised. He wouldn't eat as a child unless he could stir a few ingredients in a pot with his wooden spoon (all from his high chair).
Years later, after graduating from New York Restaurant School and opening two of his own restaurants, he was named executive chef of Estate House in the Southbridge District of Scottsdale.
Estate House opened in early 2008 with Ron Dimas as executive chef. The restaurant was envisioned to have fine dining in a mansion atmosphere -- what they coined "French-inspired wine country cuisine." Following the economy's tough blow to fine dining, Estate House was due for face lift (how Scottsdale). It is the only surviving restaurant of the seven originally planned for SouthBridge: Canal became Acua (which is soon becoming a nightclub); Digestif became Tutto; and Mexican Standoff, an expanded Sea Saw, and Shell Shock never opened.
To escape the economic quicksand, Estate House snatched up Chef Osso in October 2008 and introduced lower-priced options for dinner and a lunch menu. Osso has changed up the menu to include more approachable dishes (say hello to the Estate House B.L.T. or Baby Beet Salad) and more international influences.
The New Jersey native talks candidly about his move to Arizona, his first foodgasm, and his not-so-secret desire to take on Mario Batali on Iron Chef.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with right now?
You know, there are two different types of -- oh, I don't even want to say because I don't want anyone else to know about it. See the competition? ... I guess it's on my menu, so I'll tell you. There are these spreadable pork sausages. I put them on crostini and in pasta; they're good everywhere. [And they're currently in two dishes on the Estate House menu.]
When was your first foodgasm?
I was in Italy, in Capri. There was the most basic, basic thing; it was buffalo mozzarella, wrapped in lemon leaf, grilled and served with a little olive oil and sea salt. The mozzarella took the flavor of the lemon leaf ... I tasted a lemon, but there was no lemon. It just melted in my mouth. I just thought, "Really? Is this heaven?"
Why did you come out to Phoenix?
I wanted to be a part of something that's growing. The one thing I miss most [about New York and New Jersey] is the camaraderie among the chefs. In New York, there's a group, a brotherhood of chefs. We don't really have that here. It's more of a tennis match. I'm really lucky to have a lot of friends who are local chefs, but we don't all know that on any given Friday we're all going to end up in one place. I think the culinary scene can really boom and grow if we could have that here.
Was opening a restaurant everything you thought it would be?
No. It was much more work. I think people who have a lot of money or really like cooking often think, 'Oh, I want to open my own restaurant ... It would be so much fun to own a restaurant ..." No, no, no, no. It's seven days a week -- it's eight days a week. It's 25 hours a day, 7000 days a year. It's difficult and you're on stage every night. You're doing a performance. If you forget a line or play the wrong note, it's going to affect your audience.
Which Iron Chef would you want to challenge and with what secret ingredient?
I don't do as much Italian food as I used to, but I would like to go up against Mario [Batali], any ingredient. Bring it. I'd wear my Crocs; they're just not orange...I mean he's Mario Batali for god's sake, but so what? You never know.
If you could go on a culinary vacation any where in the world, where would you go?
Right now, I'd go back to Spain. It's been a long, long time. I just want to see it all again. I haven't been anywhere in Asia and I want to go to China, Japan, Vietnam, but for what I'm doing right now and what I'm looking to do in the future, I really want to further excel in Spanish cuisine.
I've been working on a book for the past six or seven years. It's a book of recipes that I grew up with, recipes I've learned from other chefs and recipes I've come up with myself ... So there will be a recipe I learned from my aunt on a rainy day in Italy and because I couldn't go to the beach I sat and learned this or that -- it's a story and recipe book. I'm hoping to get it done this year, but we'll see.