Pete DeRuvo Dishes On the Joys of Pasta and an Embarrassing Moment with James Beard Award-winner Johanne Killeen

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See also: Davanti Enoteca: Believe the Buzz; It's Sensational See also: Chef Pete DeRuvo To Head Kitchen at New Davanti Enoteca See also: Tastemaker #21: Pete DeRuvo

Pete DeRuvo Davanti Enoteca 6316 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale 480-659-1800 www.davantiscottsdale.com

This is part one of my interview with Pete DeRuvo, executive chef at Davanti Enoteca. Come back on Tuesday for part two of the interview with Chef Pete DeRuvo.

Pete DeRuvo is six degrees of bacon -- not the actor, the breakfast food. He's a whole pig-roasting, mortadella-making Italian chef who loves art, reading, travel, family and pork (lots and lots of pork) in all its yummy permutations. DeRuvo got his first job as a dishwasher and prep cook at a Jewish deli in Maryland, where he stayed on, working as hot line cook, while attending junior college, studying interior design and imagining himself Jack Tripper of Three's Company (a chef with two girlfriends).

When a co-worker and recent graduate of Johnson & Wales suggested he attend culinary school, DeRuvo enrolled (with financial aid), eventually becoming both teaching assistant and university fellow. DeRuvo helped open a new Johnson & Wales in Miami, where stayed there for two years before noodling around with The Shooting Gallery (a catering company whose clients were filmmakers) and eventually landing a gig at Al Forno in Rhode Island. It was the year chef-owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon won a James Beard Award and a learning experience DeRuvo will never forget.

Killeen was also a photographer, Germon a sculptor, and the two conveyed what they knew about aesthetics and balance to DeRuvo, who explains that it was here he learned that "food can be art too." He eventually left for California, where he worked with Michael Tusk and chef-owner Paul Bertolli at Oliveto'scafe in Oakland. But DeRuvo dreamed of an extended trip to Italy and after spending the summer making jams and jellies for Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa, he landed a job as caretaker of an olive grove in Tuscany for six months. He explored Italy for a year before heading back to Rhode Island and Al Forno for his second tour of duty. This time, he had a much deeper knowledge of Italian food to bring to the table. When his stepfather in Arizona developed health issues, DeRuvo moved to Phoenix and found a job at Gregory's World Bistro, later moving to Chrysa Robertson and Tom Kaufman's Nonni's Kitchen and then to Rancho Pinot. After that, he headed back to San Francisco, met the girl who would become his wife and moved to Sicily for two years. He had an epiphany to finish the hospitality management degree he'd started at Johnson & Wales (where he earned a culinary degree years earlier) and went back to school to get it before returning to Phoenix in 2004.

After a brief stint at Capital Grille, DeRuvo landed a gig at Sassi with Wade Moises, staying on to become executive chef six months later when Moises left to open Pasta Bar. He stayed for three years and left for a brief but miserable association with a restaurant called Vatra before taking the chef de cuisine position at Prado. When the Intercontinental Montelucia was bought by KSL, DeRuvo moved on to Cuoco Pazzo, a relationship that ended unhappily nine months later. He was "driving fish" for James Miliotes of Jet-Fresh (old-timers will remember Miliotes from Bistecca), when DeRuvo heard that Chicago-based Davanti Enoteca was opening in Phoenix. He applied and got the job and now DeRuvo is happily making his own charcuterie and pasta and roasting the occasional whole pig. You might say he's in hog heaven.

Favorite food smell: Slow-cooked whole pig being spit-roasted over wood -- cooking it all night long and drinking beers, telling stories and having fun!

Ingredient you love to cook with: Pasta -- all types. All have different meanings and stories behind their nuances, kind of like people. Most over-rated ingredient: Lobster.

Most under-rated ingredient: Capers always get a bad rap!

What did you take away from your experience at Sassi?: Appreciation for being able to work with Wade Moises. He's a phenomenal chef and I learned a great deal from him. I also appreciated the opportunity to cook at the James Beard House with friend and mentors, an experience that will forever burn in my memory as some of the best food I ever cooked during that time.

What most Americans don't understand about Italian food is: It's a tough game, balancing between Americanized Italian and True Italian. Point is, there is no "Italian." Regions are there to distinguish between the nuances of each dish. Respect the regions and do your own research. It's not Food Network, not Top Chef, not Master Chef. There's a library full of books for the taking, so read, exercise your mind. Empty your mind, be free, travel and take risks.

Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Lots of moments. One would be adding fine sea salt to a made-to-order meringue during my first night on pastry station at Al Forno and serving it to chef-owner Johanne Killeen. Not the best impression, needless to say.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

This post was edited from its original format.

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