Chef News

Jerry Alday of Nello's Pizza, Part Two

Yesterday we heard from Chef Jerry Alday of Nello's Pizza. Today the conversation continues.

Jerry Alday, the chef at Nello's Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Ahwatukee, has a thing for farmers' markets and fresh, local produce.

"It's really nice to see that surge of farm to table, local first, really getting back to the core of food," Alday says. "I think food has taken a different direction. And I think a lot of these convenient fast food restaurants are slow to be a dying breed."

"My wife calls me a food snob," Alday says. He doesn't frequent fast food joints and has been known to reject deliveries that don't meet his standards. "The produce people hate me, because I send things back all the time."

He's okay with i,t though. "As the saying goes, you either pay the farmer or you pay the doctor, and that's really so true," Alday says. "If you've got quality product walking in the back door, it's still good by the time it reaches the table."

Today, Alday spills his secret for making the perfect pizza crust, his most embarrassing kitchen moment, and his habit of talking to vegetables.

Best way to toss a pizza crust? By hand. I tell the guys, "You have to treat it like a woman," which is kind of funny, "firm yet sensitive." If you really kill the salt structure and kill the levener, you don't have the life in it, so by hand, absolutely.

Favorite dish to make? A lot of times I end up regressing right back to my roots. It's either always carnitas or carne asada, a nice big pot of beans and fresh corn or flour tortillas. It's home for me.

Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen? Second night we opened Chelsea's Kitchen. The fryer was up on a ledge, and the fryer tipped over. I got burnt pretty bad, and I was full of grease. So as soon as I came around the corner the pastry chef, Monica, pulled my pants down and I was walking through the kitchen in my boxers. That was kind of an interesting moment, I think I was more shocked than anything. Walking through the kitchen in my boxers, I'd probably do that on a dare.

The most overrated ingredient right now? A lot of times I don't even watch the network channels to see what other people are doing; I kind of just try to grasp what my resources are around here and gain inspiration from there. A lot of times, my inspiration is from farmers' markets. It's better to kind of stay within your own realms as opposed to seeing what other people are doing and trying to emulate them.

What's your favorite stop at the farmers' market? I like the whole bounty, personally. It's kind of funny because sometimes the cooks have found me in the walk-in talking to the vegetables - a lot of times when I'm creating a dish - and they'll ask, "What are you doing?" and I'll say, "I'm gaining inspiration." And that's kind of what I'll do at the farmers' market. I'll walk through the farmers' market and let everything play itself out. And I'm really amazed at the quality of the ingredients that are being grown. I think they figured it out, and it's getting better all the time.

What's next? Something's in the works, but right now we're just toying with different ideas. We're not going to throw it out there just yet. I'm not going to count my chickens before they hatch, so to speak. I think it's got to be the right place with the right location for the right demographic of people, and that takes time.

(This is part two of our Chef Chat with Alday. Check out part one and check back for a recipe tomorrow.)

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hannah E Williams