An Interview with Chef Paul Bartolotta
Next weekend marks the launch of AZ Central's inaugural Food & Wine Experience. It will take place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8, at Scottsdale Fashion Square. The event will showcase Arizona's culinary talent and beverage craft with exclusive seminars, master classes, and acclaimed visiting chefs. Chef Aaron May has personally invited his friends Michael Ginor, Akira Back and Chuck Hughes to join him in producing the Grand Finale Dinner, and Chef Paul Bartolotta has joined this esteemed team. I am a fan of this famed Chef, having dined at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at The Wynn in Las Vegas, where I feasted on langostinos, Ligurian octopus, branzino, and orata flown in from Italy. Chef Bartolotta's 30 years of experience spans an illustrious career, from his European apprenticeship in Italy and France to acclaimed restaurants in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Las Vegas. He has been honored with two James Beard Foundation awards, in 1994 for Best Chef: Midwest (Spiaggia in Chicago), and in 2009 for Best Chef: Southwest (Bartolotta in Las Vegas). I had a chance to talk with this renowned chef in anticipation of his visit to Arizona.
We’re excited to have you in Phoenix. Have you been here before? I have. My sister lives in Gilbert, so it’s a great excuse for me to be back in the Phoenix area.
And you are going to be joining all these fine chefs. And not all of which I know, which is a big plus. Some I've known for years. I’ve been cooking with Michael Ginor for 25-30 years, from my New York days, so he and I have been friends for a long time, and Graham Elliot I know from my Chicago days. I’ve never cooked with Aaron May before and I’m looking forward to cooking with him. There are also a couple of chefs I know from Vegas but I've never cooked with them.
You must be proud of your time at Bartolotta where you brought in Italian seafood on a superlative level. I did indeed. I like to think that what we did was pretty ground-breaking. I remain grateful to Steve Wynn for building me the stage for my concept and passion for Italian seafood cooking. The single element I’m most proud of is how my staff embraced my vision and concept.
Is it 11 restaurants now in Milwaukee as part of your partnership with your brother? That’s a great question. I don’t know how many; we also have catering venues and airport restaurants. Let me think about it, let’s do the list. We have Bartolotta Ristorante, and then Lake Park, Mister B’s Steakhouse, and Piccola. After that, we did Bacchus, the Grain and Pier, and then we have Northpoint, Harbor House, Rumpus Room and Joey Gerard's. Then we did Miss Beverly’s and US Bank. So those are the ones that would be official restaurants. We also have a catering company, and at the airport we've got Nonna’s, another Northpoint, and another Piccola.
That’s impressive, any more planned? We have Osgoods that is opening in a couple of weeks, and after that we are doing three other concepts this year. Osgoods is a drive-through, family-style restaurant that focuses on sandwiches, burgers, brats, hot dogs, fish frys, ribs, all of high quality of course. It's super-quick and casual with a drive-through element that we’ve never done before, so that’s exciting. We won’t own it, this is a managed property. We’re doing 4 new restaurants as part of the Mayfair Collection, and these restaurants are essentially management agreements where Phoenix Development Corporation is our partner as part of the Mayfair collection of shops, and then they’ve asked us to do a handful of restaurants. So we’re doing a large tavern concept, we’re doing a French bistro, and then we’re going to do a really fun taqueria concept.
You really have that creative mind with these originating ideas. I do. On my list is a Greek tavern concept and a Spanish tapas concept. There's a rustic trattoria concept that I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and there’s this Eurasian concept that I want to do called Shanghai Joe’s, named after my brother Joe. I make a point to be more in the background. I think I have a fair amount to do with the food concepts and the origination. Our corporate executive chef Adam is my protégé and has worked for me for years. He’s an extension of me in that market so I don’t have to be there every day, and he does a great job. I make sure that all my chefs in Milwaukee get the press as opposed to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to keep them engaged. I want to keep them. I want them to feel ownership, I want them to get the accolades, I want them to get the credit because that way I don’t have to worry about being there every week. They take ownership, they feel important. Not only do my brother and I trust them, but I don’t micromanage what we do. It’s a little bit of a different level than what I did in New York, Chicago, and Vegas.
You will be leading the Grand Tasting Panel at the Food and Wine Experience. Yes, I’m moderating the panel of chefs on Sunday. I’m pretty excited because at these events all too often you are at a grazing table or doing a cooking demo. I really like the idea of doing more panel discussions because I think it gives the foodie, the consumer who follows chefs like us, to have an opportunity to have a window into our world. They already know our food. You guys kind of put us on the stage, so to speak, in giving us press and media.
What do you have planned for your Grand Finale Dinner course? I’m doing a traditional dish I’ve been doing for many, many years. It was a signature dish at Wynn and one of our best-selling items. It’s a dish I developed for San Domenico in New York, then I brought it to Spiaggia, and then it’s something I carried over to Las Vegas, so it’s just one of those dishes that has been in my repertoire. It’s a tradition-inspired dish. In the Veneto region, they have areas up hills and then there are areas that are along the sea coast. You’ve heard the term mare e monte - something from the sea and the mountains, or sea and the woods? So it’s a combination of seared sea scallops with porcini mushrooms, something woodsy and something from the sea.
Anything else on the horizon? Well…you never know. Let’s just say I’m excited about the future.
For tickets and more information on the AZ Central Food & Wine Experience events, including the Grand Tasting Panel and Finale Dinner, visit www.azcentralfoodandwine.com