Chef News

Dustin & Pat Christofolo of The House at Secret Garden, Part Two

Yesterday, we heard from Dustin and Pat Christofolo, today the conversation continues.

Mother-and-son restaurateur team Pat and Dustin Christofolo are proof that cooking ability is genetic (and don't believe the hype about it skipping a generation, either). The Christofolos opened their family's first third-generation restaurant this October: The House at Secret Garden.

When Dave Mata, owner of Secret Garden, offered the Cristofolos restaurant space in the 1929 South Mansion and barn on property, they saw potential for Dustin to stretch his fresh-from-Italy talent outside The Farm Kitchen at The Farm at South Mountain, which Pat owns. Not to mention the chance for an exciting new restaurant in Pat's less-than-hopping South Mountain neighborhood. Chef Dustin's at the helm in the kitchen, while Pat helps oversee the operation.

Now on a first-name basis, we chat about childhood, sandwiches and wine with the Christofolos. Click through to find out who got gourmet lunches while the other was stuck with PB&J and bologna.

What's your favorite sandwich now? I love prosciutto. I love good cheeses. It's probably some kind of prosciutto, salami, good cheese combination on ciabatta. I love heated, warm, toasted breads. Mine is probably the grilled flank steak sandwich when we serve it on marble rye with some grilled onions and a gorgonzola spread.

What does the Phoenix food scene need more of? I think we need more casual price point restaurants: Real food with an emphasis on ingredients and taste. I think we need more family-owned restaurants. Where you don't have six or seven projects going on at the same time: You've got you baby and you're going to take care of it. We love the independent chef movement. And not being tied down to those corporate or franchise guidelines as per what kind of menu you have to cook day after day. We're so fortunate here to have the length of growing season that we have. I'm glad to see that "local, seasonal" is not just a buzz word anymore. As our exposure grows to what the farms are producing, we can't not use it. It's not optional. And it just makes sense.

Any ingredients you're most looking forward to cooking? I don't really look forward to anything coming around. What I really like doing is sitting down with my sous chef Jan [Francis Feliciano] and being surprised at what pops up on the availability list. In that moment, we'll start talking about a couple different things and start working with the new products. Right now, the butternut squash from Maya's Garden is absolutely fantastic, and the raviolis we've been making with it are going over very well.

Hardest pasta to make? Something that's very tough and you have to be very careful with is gnocchi. You don't want to roll out the potato and the flour too much. You don't want to add too much flour so it's gummy. There's a really fine line of rolling the pasta out too much to the point where it's tough and gummy in the mouth, but if you don't roll it out enough and you go to cook it, you're little gnocchi's going to fall apart. Quiessence has had the best gnocchi that I've ever tried. It's kind of tough to live up to those standards. We really admire Tony's pasta. He's just a master of pasta.

What is most intriguing to you about wine? I feel like wine is something that is living and breathing: Even if you're having the same wine, even bottle to bottle it could be slightly different. And, of course, the combinations that you can come up with of wine and food. If you really go into depth with wine and a dish that you're talking about and break it down, you can almost match it up with a dish in that way. At the same time, sometimes opposites attract. It's fun because there's no science to it. You can have so much fun with it. You can learn something new every day just by drinking it. The only thing you didn't mention is that while you were working the front of house at Quiessence, you went to Napa Valley for two months and did a wine immersion course.

Best wine advice you got in Napa? I asked the wine buyer for the Taj hotels who had a great palate and was very knowledge when it came to wines, "What's your favorite wine? If you could just tell me one bottle or grape varietal that's your favorite." He said, "You know what, I'll never have a favorite wine because if I have a favorite wine, I'm going to taste all of these different grape varietals coming from different regions and I'm going to base my opinion off that favorite wine." And that just opened my eyes. You just have to have an open mind when it comes to tasting wine.

If you're not in the kitchen, we could find you... Sitting at the bar tasting wines with the somm. Well, that's still in the restaurant... Outside the restaurant? I don't really have much of a personal life right now. [Laughing.] He doesn't even remember his personal life! It's that whole restaurant culture. It's almost like you don't want to leave it. Sometimes I can be a little weird about it: I could go home and relax, I could take off a couple hours early, but no, you want to be there 'til the end and make sure everything is going smoothly. On Sundays, my day off, I like to have barbeques for football and stuff like that. Like I said, the smoker's my favorite thing to work with, so we'll smoke some ribs. It's a good time.

Hannah E Williams
The back patio at The House at Secret Garden, complete with heaters and a fire place.

This is our second installment of Chef Chat with the Christofolos. Check out part one for more about the pair's pasts and career trajectories and check back tomorrow for a recipe. 

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Hannah E Williams