If you didn’t catch yesterday’s part one of this interview, be sure to click here. And don’t forget to check out the Dolce Italiano Contest, starting on Monday!
6) What led you to write this cookbook? What do you hope the reader will take away from it?
Well, I describe it in my acknowledgments. I always loved to write, and Mario knew this. I had worked with him on some of his books, and contributed the entire dessert chapter to The Babbo Cookbook. One day I was talking to him and I said that I felt that I didn’t know what my next step would be in my life. We had worked incredibly hard to open Babbo and make it a success and 5 years into it, I was thinking, “what now?” Mario looked at me and said, “You are going to write a great book next.” He really did plant the seed, and even gave it the first few waterings to make it grow. I hope the reader sees this book as what it really is: my love letter to Babbo, and a bit of the story of who I am and how I came to be the chef I am. I also hope that I have laid some groundwork for discovering that there is more to Italian sweets than cannoli and tiramisu. You will notice that there are no recipes for either in my book, because as wonderful as those things are, they are certainly not emblematic of what Italian sweets really are. I barely scratched the surface.
7) Did you have/do you have any mentors in your professional career? Any chefs that you particularly admire/respect? Any that you haven’t met but would like to?
Well, my biggest mentors were my mother and my grandmother, and my older sister too. We all cooked together, and that was the single most influential group of people in my life as a cook. In the past, I have been fortunate to work with some great people, some famous, some not – each chef I have worked for has influenced me in some way. My good friend Paul Grimes, who is now a food editor and stylist at Gourmet Magazine and was at one time my teacher, was a huge influence on me. Claudia Fleming and Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern were my mentors while I was at Gramercy Tavern. And Mario…well, it was Mario who opened me up to who I could really be as a chef.
8) Tell us one (or more!) of your all-time favorite cookbooks, and/or books about your field.
I love all of Richard Olney’s books. Julia Child’s The Way To Cook is fantastic. The Splendid Table by Lynne Rosette Kasper. Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook laid the groundwork for what I do. Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy. I love old cookbooks. A good cookbook can give you a lifetime of pleasure in the kitchen. As for reading, I highly recommend The United States of Arugula by David Kamp – witty and informative. And any of the books by Michael Ruhlman.
9) What is the one kitchen utensil or piece of equipment that you think every cook should have in their kitchen?
Oh, it is so hard to isolate one thing! I think you need a good cast iron pot, and a wooden spoon, and a balloon whisk, and good knives. I couldn’t live without those items. Then you take it from there.
10) What is your favorite dessert to make? What dessert has had the most success at Babbo?
I personally love to make pie. There is something special about the process of making the dough, chilling it, rolling it out, and preparing the fruit to go in it. I just love the entire process. My most successful dessert at Babbo is actually quite easy and predictable—Chocolate Hazelnut Cake. Everyone loves chocolate.
…Be sure to come back for the last helping tomorrow!