Chef News

Gasper Manno of Gasper's Casual Italian Dining/Pizzeria, Part Two

Yesterday, we heard from Chef Gasper Manno, Today, the conversation continues.

Gasper Manno and his wife Maria grew up in towns 20 minutes apart on the Italian island of Sicily, but they didn't meet until they wound up at the same college in New York City. Halfway around the world decades later, now they work together at Gasper's Casual Italian Dining/Pizzeria.

Division of labor is pretty straightforward: Gasper's behind the pizza bar and Maria's in charge of pesto and desserts. But sometimes, the pair's just better together.

"We have a very good pizza with pesto sauce," Manno says. "It's not on my menu, but we make it whenever Maria makes the pesto."

Manno swears by simplicity but still manages to keep us guessing. Today we find out where his candy apple red mixer got its finish, why he won't make a pizza with more than four toppings, whom he'd like to try one of his pies, and what he's doing when he's not in the kitchen.

What was your motivation for the open pizza bar? So that people can see the process. As you can see, my dough machine is right there. I prepare the dough fresh every day. The cheese is made fresh every day in the kitchen. So that people can watch as I'm working: They can see me making their pizza, the pizza they're going to eat. They sit at the pizza bar, and they can look inside the oven and see their pizza being cooked. The get the full picture, starting with water, flour, yeast, and salt to the finished product of their dish.

Favorite tool in the kitchen? The mixer. I can't live without that. It's 60 quarts. It's painted candy apple red. I thought it would be very attractive. I sent it to a body shop to have it painted.

How long did it take you to learn the pizza toss? Oh that took a few months. Now at my age, I don't really toss it anymore. Why? One, I'm not a young pizza man anymore. And two, the dough for this kind of pizza is really prepared different than the typical pizza, the 16- or 19-inch pizza. This dough is much more delicate.

If you could make pizza for another chef, who would you make it for? Chris Bianco. I would love for him to try my pizza. Have you tried his? Many times, and it's very good.

How many toppings per pie? I always try to limit the toppings to three - maximum four. Three toppings is more than enough on a pizza. If you have more, then the flavors get muddled and you're not really able to taste every single ingredient in the toppings.

What's the best thing to drink with pizza? Wine of course! I like a dry, full-bodied red wine.

If you could go anywhere for a meal, where would you go and what would you have? I'd want to go to Rome and have a real authentic pasta that they make called cacio and pepe - pepper - which is a delicious dish for me. It's plain, simple, and a bit spicy with the pepper. And I think they're really the only ones that know how to make it the right way. It's always good!

Where do you like to go when you visit Italy? I try to go to as many cities as possible; they're all unique, all have their own charm. Mostly I stay on the coast. I like to sit in a restaurant right on a beach and listen to the water.

Farthest sourced ingredient? I have this very good extra virgin olive oil from Pula that's excellent, and that's the only thing that I use on my pizzas: Only that oil.

If you were to order off the menu, you'd have... A margherita pizza. To me, that's pizza.

Any hobbies? I'm a decorative artist. What do you create? All types of decorative painting, gilding, murals, plasters. Did you have a hand in the decoration of Gasper's? Some of it. I just didn't have time to do what I really wanted to do. We had to open the doors.

What would you like to see more of on the Valley food scene? More authentic rustic, regional Italian dishes, such as we prepare here. They tend to be more mholesome, plainer, more home-style. That's my goal here to try and achieve that and to introduce those fresh flavors.

This is our part two of our Chef Chat with Manno. Check out part one to find out why he never swapped places with his twin, what his ideal pizza has on it, and how he's abiding by the rules of Neopolitan pizza making. And check back tomorrow for a easy-as-pie recipe to make at home.

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Hannah E Williams