Chef Chat: Peter DeRuvo, Sassi

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Peter DeRuvo's come a long way since he started as executive chef at north Scottsdale's Sassi a couple years ago. Since he's been in the kitchen, the beautiful Italian restaurant has received the AAA Four Diamond award, a high honor indeed.

Part of Sassi's appeal is its ever-changing menu (the selection is switched up monthly), full of locally grown, artfully presented homemade meals. DeRuvo studied both culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management and has logged time living in Tuscany, Italy. DeRuvo says cooking with his family when he was younger inspired him to make a career in the kitchen.

"I knew I would never go hungry again," DeRuvo says. "I wanted to not only cook well for my family, but also for myself. The neat thing about being in an Italian family is everyone's already a chef to begin with."

The Queens, N.Y. native now not only takes charge in the kitchen, but he also guides Valley diners through cooking demonstrations. DeRuvo gave us more insight into what makes him tick as a Valley chef.

What stands out about the Phoenix dining scene? Local chefs try too hard. If they were a little more consistent about what they're putting on the plate, I think they'd have more accreditation and people would get it a little more easier. We give people more what they want and less what I want. My goal is to welcome you into my house when I cook for you.

What's the most surprising request you've ever gotten from a customer? Asking for Bernaise sauce in an Italian restaurant.

What are your favorite things about working at Sassi? I love coming to work because of the beauty of cooking great food and working with great people. The restaurant lends itself to not be too over-the-top, but at the same time, it looks like you're in a villa in Italy. It's about enjoying the fruits of the labor you put into it.

What are the biggest challenges to being a chef? Getting everyone on the same page to taste how you taste and getting them to season properly. If you're not getting your students to taste how you taste, then they're cooking their own dish.

Do you have any specific rules in your kitchen? Show up on time. Be aware of what you're doing at all times. Use common sense. Keep your wits about you. Treat everyone with respect. Treat the food with respect. Don't get in over your head, and ask if you need help. I have a list of like 35 rules in the kitchen at all times.

What are your top three ingredients to use? Olive oil, tomatoes and salt. With olive oil, you can cook with it, you can sear with it, you can anoint things with it. There's so many different varietals of it and so many characteristics, and the same thing with salt. With tomatoes, you may can them, you can use them fresh, you can grate them, you can cook them.

What ingredient would you consider overrated? Balsamic vinegar. It's played-out. Everyone uses it. Another ingredient is micro-greens. If I wanted a salad, I'd order a salad. It has to be a functional garnish, so if someone puts a salad on top of something, a lot of times, it's too much.

What's your favorite local ingredient? Arugula. 

What are your tips for at-home cooking? Know what you're getting yourself into when you look at a recipe, and be able to get the proper ingredients first. Don't wing it. 

How do you compare yourself as a chef to other Valley chefs? I'm an extremely hands-on kind of guy, so I'm behind the line working all the time. If you're a chef, you should be working behind the line every night, developing, tasting and working with others. 

Who's your favorite celebrity chef? I think from an informational standpoint, Alton Brown is definitely my favorite because he gives you the ABC's of how things are chemically, inoragnically and organically are mixed together.

What's your favorite local restaurant? For sustenance and the feeling of being in a different world, I go to Salt Cellar for the cocktails and steamers. Others are Rancho Pinot (I worked there twice) and La Grande Orange--I like the style of what they do and the authenticity of being able to hang out and see what's going on in the kitchen.

Check back on Chow Bella tomorrow for a recipe of DeRuvo's Paglia e Fieno Pasta.

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