Nick LaRosa Nook 602-651-1390 www.nookkitchen.com
One of Arcadia's newest dining spots is appropriately named -- Nook is the kind of cozy local joint where families can come for an easy dinner and dates can slide into cozy booths for a nice glass of wine. Chef Nick LaRosa, a Connecticut-born guy with Sicilian roots, brings more than a decade of experience in the industry to the restaurant, as well as his culinary degree from Johnston and Wales. Today, the new father tells us how he got on board with Nook and what he learned from working with Gio Osso. Be sure to come back Tuesday when he talks about what else the Nook team has planned for Phoenix and gives his thoughts on children in high-end restaurants.
In the past few months, the dining scene in Central Phoenix and the Arcadia neighborhood has exploded, welcoming handfuls of new restaurants as well as news of more to come. And the Gaslight Square strip mall is a perfect snapshot of the exponential growth. It's an old complex where familiar names like Chef Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table and Chef Cullen Campbell of Crudo share space with newcomers like Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook and Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald of the newly opened The Market by Jennifer's. What was once an easy-to-overlook set of ho-hum businesses has become a local dining hub.
Nook opened last fall in a long, skinny space that used to house a bar and grill called Darwin's. LaRosa and owners Frank Vairo and Tagan Dering, also of Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge, rolled up their sleeves to turn the old restaurant into a cozy space with a fun, inviting feel. There are sky blue walls and exposed brick, handmade shelving and sleek metal lights.
LaRosa met the two restaurant industry veterans through Chef Gio Osso (Virtu Honest Craft), whom he worked with at HMS Host -- the food, beverage, and retail provider for many airports including Phoenix's Sky Harbor. As chef de cuisine, LaRosa, who was with the company for nine years, helped oversee the openings of many of the local restaurants in the airport as well as the commissary built to accommodate their needs.
"It was a bit of a transition from doing someone else's food to doing my own," LaRosa admits and giving up a comfy corporate salary wasn't easy either.
But LaRosa says he's happy to be doing the independent-restaurant thing these days. Even with the new restaurant and twin baby boys (born just two weeks after the restaurant opened), the chef says he feels less stressed than ever.
Of course, part of that could be attributed to the fact that LaRosa seems to thrive under the type of chaotic environment that would break other people. When things get slammed at Nook, he hops from pizza oven to working the line, doing whatever needs to be done right then. What's more, he enjoys it.
"I really had no time to do a test kitchen," LaRosa says. "But I've been told that you do your best under pressure."
Describe Nook in five words: Simple, neighborhood, culinary without restrictions.
In your opinion, what makes Nook different from other pizzerias? We're more involved with our guests. We like to create a lasting impression.
What drew you to the culinary arts? Growing up I was always surrounded by food. It was something that I was really good at, and my family and friends encouraged me to go to culinary school.
Does the high concentration of restaurants in the area worry you at all? No. I think with the addition of Nook to Arcadia, it's turning Arcadia into more of a destination like Old Town.
What lessons did you learn from your past experiences working with Gio Osso and working on the airport restaurants? Gio exposed me to an array of products I had never used before and the unique flavors of each. My experience with the airport restaurants taught me how to hone my skills while opening new places and following standards in a structured environment.
What's the last cookbook or food-related book you read: It was a Christmas present called Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by Jose Andres.
One movie you think everyone should see and why: The Godfather trilogy. There ares many life lessons to be learned in those movies.
One national/international restaurant you've been impressed with in the last year: Barbecoa, Jamie Oliver's restaurant in London. The flavors are just what I like, and the menu and atmosphere are exactly what I look for when I go out to eat.
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The best thing that's happened to the Phoenix food scene so far: I would say the rise of small mom-and-pop restaurants that are chef-owned and chef-driven. In turn, also the decline of corporate restaurants.
What national or international chef do you admire and why?: Anthony Bourdain. He's kind of like the outcast of the culinary world, and I think he's just a badass.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay