Former chef at L'Impero and Alto
Wed Apr 23 2008
Photograph: Melanie Dunea
1 Last we heard, you had shot a TV pilot and were selling products on the Home Shopping Network. Are those projects still on?
No. My focus now is strictly on my new book, Bold Italian, and my restaurant Scarpetta in the Meatpacking District, which I’m planning to open in mid-May. In essence the restaurant is all me, so that’s where my attention is.
2 The timing between the two is very close. What’s the connection?
In a way, the book is a preview of the restaurant, both in terms of approach and also specific menu items. They’re both about soulful, honest, assertive food. There’s this idea in Italy of the scarpetta—literally, little shoe—which describes the pieces of bread you use to mop up sauce on the plate. I’m interested in the kind of food that inspires the diner to do that. I wanted to call the book Scarpetta, but the term isn’t widely known here.
3 Sounds more rustic than what you did at your previous gigs. Does the public not respond well to haute Italian?
Some of the high-end Italian food in the city gets good press. Fabio Trabocchi at Fiamma, Tony May at San Domenico, Michael White at L’Impero and Alto, and Mario at Del Posto: They’re all doing great things and getting positive responses. I like cooking alta cucina, but I think there still needs to be that common thread of rusticity. In the end, it’s about the customers’ experience and their reactions. What I’m doing now is the type of food that resonated with a lot of my customers in the past—it’s not about ego, it’s about approachable food.