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What is your favorite part of being a restaurant owner in Asheville?
For me, it’s all about empowering my staff and watching the business grow. It’s also about being part of the Asheville community and giving back to the community. That’s a big part of what we do is charitable giving. Being in a public business makes you feel really connected to the community. The other part I love about being a restaurant owner is that no day is ever the same. It’s not a mundane job. You’re dealing with the public, the creative side with new menus, cocktails, etc.. It’s a very diverse business. I really enjoy it.
What is the background of your restaurant’s name?
I named it Strada, which means street or main thoroughfare in Italian. Before I opened in this space, there was talk about how it was cursed since numerous businesses had moved in and out of there. I knew it was a great location though, and I wanted to imbue the space with a little power. I named it Strada because not only is it on a main street in town, but main streets typically play a role that involves strengthening communities. Also, we all have our own paths to take, roads to travel. This was the first time I was doing a business on my own without my family, so it’s symbolic in that way as well.
What ingredient could you not live without?
Cheese! I love cheese. It’s so versatile. You can change the texture of it by baking, melting, or frying it. You can use it as flavoring in a pasta dish or in a sauce like pesto. I like the variety of flavors, too. We make mozzarella in house. We do a smoked mozzarella and sometimes we age it. We also prepare fresh mozzarella and variations like red wine mozzarella and basil-pesto.
What is your favorite dish on your menu?
That’s tough. That’s like picking your favorite child. Good thing I only have one of those. Some of the dishes I really enjoy is the Portofino, with baby octopus, grouper, mussels, clams and shrimp in a white wine-tomato broth over squid ink pasta. I also like the Tuscan duck and figs off the grill portion of our menu. Also the grilled ravioli and calamari. It really depends on my mood.
What is your favorite dish from a fellow AIR restaurant’s menu?
Increasingly, Jargon is becoming one of my favorite places. The first time I dined there, I loved their pork shank special. It was really nicely done. I’ve also enjoyed their goat cheese fondue.
Why did you choose Asheville to open your restaurant?
Asheville really chose me. My father had a restaurant here, Bosco’s Italian Eatery, in the late ’80s and I moved here fresh out of high school in 1990 and went through AB Tech’s Hospitality program and then transferred into the Culinary program. I moved away in ’94. My father asked me to come back and help him run his restaurant, at that time it was the Cottonwood Cafe, so I returned in 2004. We changed the name to Fiore’s in 2005. It was always a goal of mine to own my own restaurant. I took over Sazerac in February 2012, opened Strada the next month, and then renamed Sazerac the Social Lounge the following year.
What is your favorite chef’s tool and why?
I’d have to say my favorite tool is our 60-quart Hobart mixer. We use it to make all our dressings, our pizza and foccacia dough. We put attachments on it to make and shred cheese, grind up meat to make sausage. It’s basically a huge Kitchen Aid mixer and we use it all the time. I also couldn’t live without my hands as a tool. We make all of our own pasta by hand.