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.
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."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.