This is part two of our interview with Marco Bianco, bread baker at Pizzeria Bianco. Today he's sharing stories about growing up with his brother Chris, one of the biggest names in pizza. If you missed part one, in which Marco gave us the story of Arizona's White Sonora Wheat and the return of heirloom grains, you can read it here.
As much as Marco Bianco loves baking bread, he says he's not looking to leave the pizzeria and devote himself entirely to the craft. The Bianco restaurants are a family operation, and he says he likes it that way.
"My name's up there, too," he says.
The entire family is an artistically talented bunch. Before Marco moved to Phoenix, he lived in New York and worked with his father at their graphic design studio on 39th and First.
By graphic design, Bianco means creating labels for liquor, beer, and wine. Both his father and mother are artists; you can see his mother Francesca's beautiful recipe art at Trattoria Bianco and his father Leonard's painting hangs on the wall at Pane Bianco. (They met because Francesca's father asked Leonard help get his daughter started in the art world. They were set up on a first date that started with a rendezvous on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral. They've been together ever since.)
The Biancos also have their own brand of organically grown canned tomatoes. Their father drew the tomatoes on the label. Chris and Marco did the lettering.
Marco insists that of the two brothers he's the more cautious one, describing his younger sibling as the highly driven, can't-stop-him-once-he's-on-to-something type. They grew up in an Italian community where their friends looked at their mother's northeastern-influenced cuisine (think, goulash with Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles) as pretty unusual. Chris was the "more popular one," while Marco enjoyed two years as the captain of the high school wrestling team.
"People would say to me, 'You're Chris Bianco's brother?" he says with a laugh.
Marco came to Phoenix by way of the open road in 1996, embarking on a cross-country trip that included a three-day stay at Thomas Jefferson's house. ("He's one of my favorite people.")
When he arrived in the Valley, he began helping his brother gather local produce by going directly to farms, since that was before every neighborhood sprouted at least a weekly event. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was baking bread.
By 1998, he was seriously involved in the business, and in baking bread, and has been at it passionately ever since. Chris, who has suffered from asthma his entire life, always had to be careful about working so closely with flour and in 2010 had to step down from his dough-making duties. Up to that point, he had been making nearly every pizza at Pizzeria Bianco with his own two hands. He handed the reins over to his business partner and brother, Marco. To avoid similar health problems, Marco says, the dough room at Pane has an air-filtration system to help with the extraction of floating flour particles, and he wears a mask as well.
"My brother just let me run with it," he says of his progressive transformation from vegetable forager to bread baker.
Greatest accomplishment in the kitchen: Is getting to the point of truly understanding the food science of bread after many years of baking.
Your three favorite Phoenix restaurants (other than your own/your family's): FnB, Nobuo, and Tarbell's.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: White Sonora wheat flour, grown locally here in Arizona. Purchased from Hayden Flour Mills, local stone millers from Phoenix. Also available at Pane Biancox and Bodega at FnB in Scottsdale.
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Your drink of choice and where you get it: During the cold winter months here in Arizona, sipping a glass of Maderia - New York Malmsey from Rare Wine Company Historic Series with friends near the fireplace/kiva at the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley.
Favorite thing about the Phoenix food scene: It's getting much better and creative.
Thing you miss most about New York: All Italian delis with the "hits you in the face" smell of hanging provolone and pastry shops with the smell of cannoli and espresso coffee that fills my lungs while I wait for my turn to be helped.