Did your family cook together when you were a child? Only professionally. My brother did a lot of cooking. My mother said I was the gourmet cook, and he was the country cook.
How old were you when you started cooking? I started at thirteen, bussing tables, washing dishes, making salad. I started doing real cooking at seventeen.
First cooking job? La Veranda.
Did you attend culinary school or college? If so, where and for how long? I went at the age of 37. I was invited into a Slow Food program in Italy. It was a master's program, and I got my diploma in twelve weeks. I started at the end of September and came home right before Christmas.
What do you eat? All the good stuff. Homemade pasta and stuffed pasta, pizza of all kinds, Vietnamese, Korean, all kinds of ethnic food. I like rustic, simple food -- food of the countryside. I like real food -- not newfangled techniques. I eat cured meats, salamis and barbecue.
What do you cook at home? When I'm cooking at home, I do what others like. My kids like everything from Mom's brisket and stuffed artichoke to ravioli.
What are your three favorite restaurants in St. Louis (besides your own!)? Pappy's Smokehouse, Brasserie by Niche and the simplicity of Sugo's. All these places have simple, good, straightforward food.
The local chef who most impresses you? Multiple chefs impress me- they all impress me for different reasons. Bill Cardwell, for staying power and vast experience, and Gerard Craft.
Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? Il Buco in New York -- it's a little place with great food.
Your favorite food city? New York!
Favorite recent food find? New York Library's posting of 50,00 historical menus -- they're posting them online. It sparked my creativity: how they produced menus 50 years ago, and what was on them. The funny part is, nothing's new. We eat food. It's not rocket science. Just like fashion goes in cycles, so do menus.
Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Passion.
Five words to describe your food. Rustic, simple, local, fresh, soulful.
One food you dislike. The only food I've ever disliked is lamb's lung -- or lung in general. I'm not eating that again. It's spongy and ugh. It's a beautiful meat, but I didn't like the texture. I eat kidneys, liver and tripe, but never lung.
A food you can't live without. Pizza.
An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Everything has a place. Maybe lung.
Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Ethnic diversity and barbecue.
Best tip for home cooks. Starting with the best quality ingredients. Take a recipe that you're comfortable with, and continue to build off it. Use techniques you know, and shift them around and experiment.
Favorite after-work hangout. The Bar at Trattoria [Marcella]. We've got a great group of people here. One of our servers has been here sixteen years. It's like a family. At 44, I get out of here at eleven or twelve o'clock, and I go to the bar here. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have given a different answer.
Favorite kitchen tool. My pasta machine.
What's next for you? I wish I knew. I see Trattoria Marcella happening for a long time.
What inspires you? As a chef, the immediate gratification of the response when you set a dish down in front of someone. As a person, my desire to do good, be a good father, be a good role model.
Chefs who inspire you. Mario Batali, Jean-Georges, Bill Cardwell.
Favorite cookbooks? The In Bocca series. They're a series of Italian cookbooks that came to the United States briefly. There's a cookbook for each region of Italy with historical recipes. It gives you a knowledge of regional Italian food versus what we consider Italian food. Italians are more likely to serve meatballs over mashed potatoes than spaghetti.
Proudest professional moment? Opening Trattoria [Marcella].
Favorite music to have in the kitchen. I am so diverse -- from AC/DC to Barry Manilow to Grateful Dead.
What's on your pizza? The same thing that's on my favorite pizza from Trattoria Marcella, the Pizza Diavola. It has spicy salami, oregano, fresh Mozzarella and tomato sauce.
What's in your omelet? Veggies and egg whites.
What are you drinking? Red wine and Mic Ultra. Not mixed! They're the only two things I really drink. But I'm not drinking Mic Ultra as much, because I'm diabetic and watching my carbs.
What's the most surprising food you've eaten? Lardo. I was in Tuscany in Florence at Cibreo, the most historically authentic Tuscan restaurant. They take Lardo di Colonnata lard fat and put it in a marble cask and cure it for months with spices. Then they slice it up and put it on pizza, toast and eggs. When I ate the lardo, it was whipped on top of toast, piled high. I said, "No way," and scraped it off. I took a bite of the lardo, and it was so good -- so I put it all back on.
What's the most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? I don't know -- I've been very blessed. When I came back from Italy, I tried to give customers something new, which is great and fine, but then I realized that what the customers were already getting was great. Learning how to work these new menu items into the restaurant was a challenge.
When did you know the chef's life was for you? When I was eighteen or nineteen years old. I always knew I wanted to be independent and own my own business, but I found my passion in the kitchen. I get to use creativity and art, work with my hands and own a business at the same time.
Related Content Steve Komorek of Trattoria Marcella