Round two with Fabio Flagiello, exec chef of PastaVino
1043 Pearl Street, Boulder
Part one of my interview with Fabio Flagiello, exec-chef owner of PastaVino, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
Favorite restaurant in America: Le Bernardin, in New York. For me, eating at Le Bernardin is like being in Europe, where the cooking process is done with the time and accuracy that it deserves.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver/Boulder: Zoe Ma Ma, a Chinese restaurant in Boulder that features signature dishes and delicious Chinese home cooking. And unlike most Americanized Chinese restaurants, the dishes here are made with high-quality ingredients, including homemade organic noodles, cage-free eggs and all-natural meats. It's also really affordable, and the history behind the restaurant is great, too. The actual "mama" is still doing the cooking, even though she's in her seventies. The thing is, she doesn't miss a beat -- or a day of work. I love that place.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? I'd visit Duo for its seasonal contemporary American cuisine. It's one of Denver's best farm-to-table restaurants, and it's just a great place to eat overall. And I'd eat at the Kitchen, my next-door neighbor in Boulder. In my opinion, the Kitchen is still the best representation of what Boulder is all about. It's a restaurant that embodies the community in every way: It was built by a community of craftsmen, serving food and drink from a community of like-minded farmers, ranchers and purveyors for the sustainable enjoyment of the whole community, including the staff. And I love how committed everyone is to environmentally friendly practices like composting, wind power and eco-friendly packaging.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see more research of the products and the history of cuisines, and I wish people were less concerned about the trends and more concerned about the excellence of the food...where even the minor details have a reason based on history and traditions.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Fewer mid-level restaurants -- places that aren't necessarily inexpensive yet serve mediocre food. It's much better to be an inexpensive restaurant with just basic food, or a restaurant where I'll end up paying a little bit more money, but for a really great meal.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Maison Troisgros, in Roanne, France, in the French Alps. My meal there was absolutely unforgettable. The Troisgroses are a family of French restaurateurs, and they've played an incredibly significant role in the history of French cuisine. Pierre's son, Michel Troisgros, has played a major role since 1983, and he's now the owner of the restaurant, which has been awarded three Michelin stars since 1968 and was also named the "best French restaurant in the world" by Gault Millau. Along with amazing French cuisine, it also has the loveliest Burgundy wines. I highly, highly recommend it.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? The best kitchen I've ever cooked in was a non-commercial kitchen in Beverly Hills. It was Miss Kraft's kitchen, and it just happened to be the most well-equipped kitchen I've ever seen. Over $20,000 was spent just for copper pots and pans, and it even had a Tandoori oven and a full Chinese wok. I'd love to cook in that kitchen again.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: A clean appearance and good personal hygiene; being open to suggestions from your colleagues and the head chef; having respect for everyone around you, including the employees and the customers; and always being in a good mood and having a lot of positive energy.
What's never in your kitchen? I never want people to be too loud, too excited (in a bad way) or acting frantic. And I never, ever want people to put the needs of my customers in front of their own; our guests must always come first. And I never allow for cutting corners or recipes to be compromised in any way.
What's always in your kitchen? Respect for the food, and by that I mean respect for every single ingredient, no matter how big or small; cleanliness; high food quality; attention to detail; and people who are always genuinely happy to be here.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? La Grande Cucina di Artusi, which is an Italian master culinary book.
Favorite dish on your menu: Fettuccine alla Bolognese and sogliola alla mugnaia, which is pan-roasted Dover sole served with shrimp and caper ragout and saffron risotto.
Biggest menu bomb: Il Timballo, a baked pasta, rice or potato dish that's like a casserole. Everyone was talking about it after the movie Big Night came out, so I finally decided to put it on the menu, thinking would be a great hit. I ended up selling one a week. All that work to make one single timballo...and then I sold exactly one in a week. Go figure.
Weirdest customer request: I've had many strange requests from customers, but what sticks out in my mind the most is the lady who asked for "gelato, but less cold."
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Crocodile toes. They weren't very good, but they were very fatty.
One book that every chef should read: The Science of the Aliments. It gives you a great knowledge of ingredients and why -- and how -- they change when they cook. Cooking is a science, before anything else.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? Barolo Sandrone, Barbaresco Produttori Rio Sordo, Brunello di Montalcino Altesino, Le Volte Super Tuscan, Friulano Marco Felluga, Salice Salentino, pinot grigio and Jermann, and for beers, I'm Italian, so naturally I like Moretti.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: I worked at a restaurant called Capri in Venice Beach that was very small and completely bare, with no pictures or art on the wall. Elle magazine reviewed the restaurant and wrote, "Capri doesn't need any art on the wall -- the art is on the plate."
Best recipe tip for a home cook: I've got two: Make sure to take your time when you're cooking, and make sure you have all the right equipment in your kitchen.
What are your biggest pet peeves? Not keeping your space clean as you cook; not leaving the walk-in in good order when you leave; and cutting corners, no matter what it is.
Culinary heroes: Roger Verge from Paris, the Troigros brothers in Roanne, Gualtiero Marchesi from Milano, and, most of all, Giampaolo Grazzini, the man with the greatest food, wine and business knowledge I've ever met.
Favorite celebrity chef: The Naked Chef [Jamie Oliver]. He tries to bring genuine tradition to the plate, even if the outcome isn't always perfect.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Emeril Lagasse. I honestly can't take any more of his "Bam!"
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? Although I'm Italian and I always cook Italian food, the place where I learned the most about cooking and cuisine -- and where I learned to become a better cook so I could be on par with other chefs -- was Paris, which, in my opinion, is still the capital of cuisine.
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? For the first few years of your career, cook for a little less money, but make sure you're cooking in the best restaurant you can possibly work in. That way, you can make sure that you learn the basics the right way.
Most humbling moment as a chef: My most humbling moments happen every day, especially when I see a dish going out of the kitchen that's exactly what I intended it to be.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Being included in the Michelin guide as one of the fifty best gourmand restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.
What's your dream restaurant? A forty-seater that's reservations only, open only five days a week and has a prix fixe, set-price, five-course menu. I would only want to serve a maximum of fifty dinners a night. That would be perfect.
What do you have in the pipeline? That's a secret, but there's always something coming up.
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