Chef News

Jerry Alday of Nello's Pizza

Chef Jerry Alday of Nello's Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Ahwatukee sees himself not as just a chef but an artist whose latest medium is food.

"I actually wanted to be a rock star," Alday says. "A guitar player. Of course, everyone wanted to be Eddie Van Halen or Jimmy Page from Zeppelin! But that didn't happen."

Alday took a wayward course from wannabe rock star to actor to hairdresser and, in the process, found his calling in the culinary world.

"The food industry is always around, especially when you're trying to be an artist or an actor; everyone seems to kind of mold right back into hospitality," Alday says. "And I had a love for it and a passion for it, so why not pursue something you love and enjoy doing? This was just one of the artistic outlets that I could do and enjoy and make money."

While he has no formal culinary training, Alday says he was (and is) like a sponge.

"There was a time that like every two years I was at a different place because I wanted to learn something else," Alday says, "It seemed like I had a two-year tenure or something."

Born in Tuscon, Alday has moved around a lot to open restaurants: Opened three in Tennessee, returned to Tuscon, moved to Phoenix to open Chelsea's Kitchen for LGO, worked at Zinc Bistro for three seasons, returned to LGO to open LGO Pasadena, came back to Phoenix, and started working with the Mei family.

After launching The Parlor with Dan and Aric Mei, Alday is now in the kitchen at Nello's, which the father-and-son team also own, "to take care of the golden goose, so to speak." (Dan Mei and his brothers opened the original Tempe Nello's in 1983.)

Click through to hear why Alday's knife is his best friend, what's inspiring him now, and how he'd like to knock on doors and invite himself to dinner.

Favorite kitchen tool? My most used tool would always be my 8-inch chef's knife. It's the one I constantly use for practically everything. Of course, knives in general. Your knives are your best friends. There's a lot of other tools for garnishing this, that, and the other thing, but nothing is your friend like your favorite knife.

Best recipe experiment? House-made burrata. It's basically a fresh mozzarella that's wrapped around a sweet cream, in this case it's mascarpone and ricotta. It's phenomenal. You have to try it.

Any chef you would like to cook for? Joachim Splichal, who owns Patina [in Los Angeles] and the whole Patina group. Of course Gary Denko and Thomas Keller. Most of the time though, you know what, getting a group of friends is almost as rewarding if not more so. If I had the choice of having a group of friends and cooking for a famous chef, I'd probably pick the circle of friends.

What inspires you? I go out to eat quite a bit. I love culture cuisines, which as of recently, I've been introducing a lot of culture cuisines - granted this is an Italian restaurant - but last week, I did what I called "a taste of Morocco" and the week prior to that I made a Thai coconut curry with a mango chutney. I love culture cuisines. You can fuse things, but I think if you do fusion a lot of times you create confusion. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

If you could go anywhere and eat anything, where would you go and what would you eat? There's so many places. For the experience of it, I would love to go to Spain and El Bulli, the restaurant in Spain that uses molecular gastronomy, just to see it. Of course, I've not even been to The French Laundry [Thomas Keller's Yontville, CA, restaurant], which I would love to go to. I'd probably go off the beaten path, instead of going mainstream. You find the little holes in the wall and the dives, and you really get to the core of the people. I'd like to knock on someone's door and experience the culture from the inside out.

As a kid, did you pull any table tricks to get out of eating something you didn't like? No. I mean occasionally I might slip something to the dog. As a kid, I was real adventurous and tried everything. We would travel to California and Mexico quite a bit, and I really loved seafood. We had a ranch in Mexico growing up, so there was always the open pit where you'd cook some barbacoa underground. Everything from menudo to tongue to cheeks. I would always want to try everything just to see if I liked it. And I think that really helps me now, because I constantly have to push the envelope and try new things.

Check back tomorrow to hear about Alday's fresh food philosophy and his most embarrassing kitchen moment involving hot grease and no pants.

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Hannah E Williams