Chow Bella

Chris Bianco Finds New Chef (Who Shares His Philosophy) for Italian Restaurant

Word on the street was that Chris Bianco had installed somebody new in the kitchen at Italian Restaurant, but nobody was quite sure who. So I called the pizza maestro and soon-to-be cookbook author (No, it won't be entitled The Life of Pie), who confirms that he's brought in some new talent -- namely, John Hall, who owned and operated Canela Bistro in Sonoita with his wife Joy from 2005-2012.

See also: -Chris Bianco Writing Pizza Cookbook with Local-Food Movement Guru Gary Nabhan

But wait a minute. What's going to happen to Robbie Tutlewski -- the rock-solid guy who launched entrees at Pane Bianco back in 2011 before smoothly slipping in at Italian Restaurant when Claudio Urciuoli left last May?

According to Bianco, Tutlewski, whom he swears has ever been "a lifesaver," will be headed back to Pane to "finish what he started there." If there's anything Bianco has learned, he says, after opening a third restaurant, it's the importance of "building better people into the system." And to that end, he's also hired Erika Cooper as his new GM, luring her away from Litchfield's, where Bianco met her while he was consulting for The Wigwam. "She has a great way with service," Bianco says of her, also citing her expertise in creating strong wine programs. Her resume includes a stint at the Inn at Loretto in Santa Fe.

But Bianco can't stop talking about Hall, whom he calls "one of the brightest chefs in the country" and applauds for having "the depth to go to wine country, and to do what he did, building relationships with farmers and winemakers" when no one else had even dreamed of such a thing. "I had some incredible meals at Canela," Bianco says, "and I'm blessed to have him."

Hall, who grew up in Tucson and graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, worked for restaurateur Tom Douglas in Seattle, whom he considers a mentor. But his new go-to, and the guy who shares his passion for building relationships and creating a "circle of community," is Bianco himself, who is the indisputable master of sourcing. Hall worked for Bianco this summer ("we had so much fun," Bianco says) before traveling and eating his way through Spain.

Bianco -- remembered by so many of us as the lone pizzaiolo who never missed a shift --describes all he's done as "a journey" and admits that nowadays, it's "way more fun to be in a band than to play solo."

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Nikki Buchanan