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Interview with Chris Bianco

Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, Bar Bianco, Phoenix

What’s your favorite new ingredient?
I've been fooling around with bee pollen. I was really amazed by the texture and have been using it in a fennel and blood orange salad. I just sprinkle on a little pollen like I would white pepper.

What’s the most versatile spice?
I love Sicilian and Mexican oregano, but I think wild oregano is my favorite of all. It adds something no matter how you use it, whether it’s paired with lemon or anything else. Oregano is so Mediterranean in flavor. It’s so heady, almost medicinal.

What’s the most underused spice?
Bay leaves. I have tons of fresh bay leaves around the restaurant. Everyone has their jar at their apartment for a thousand years, but I think fresh bay is just great, especially with tomatoes.

What items should be in every pantry?
The most delicious olive oil, some fantastic dried pasta and always, if possible, some garlic. If you have those three things, you're good to go.

What’s your favorite pan?
I love a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.

What’s your favorite mail-order source?
Gustiamo, in the Bronx [gustiamo.com].

If you could design one piece of serving equipment, what would it be?
A soup spoon. I think the weight, shape and materials used for a spoon are very important.

What’s the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
My favorite dish was the short ribs at Lucques [in Los Angeles]. I hadn’t had them in so long—I used to eat them so much. They’re always a huge comfort for me.

What’s your favorite sushi place?
Sea Saw [in Scottsdale]. Nobuo Fukuda has a whitefish carpaccio that’s served alongside little round flat bread with hot toasted garlic oil poured over it at the last minute. It’s such a trippy dish.

What restaurant would you want to eat in once a week?
Avec in Chicago. It’s understated with a sense of purpose—that's how I describe the food and the space. Whenever I’m in Chicago, I get in there as much as I can.

A lot of chefs are getting into making things completely from scratch, like cheese. What's the best thing to make from scratch?
I think everyone should make a good stock at home—whether fish or beef or chicken—and freeze it.

On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
If 10 means the manipulation of ingredients beyond recognition, then I'm a five. The scientific, freaky stuff has its place, but for me it has to be the way I like to eat, which is seasonal, primitive, rustic, organic. It all goes back to the integrity of the dish. If you understand perfect carrots, then you can serve them roasted, dehydrated or turn them into dehydrated carrot dust. Wylie [Dufresne]’s food [at WD-50 in New York City] is a perfect example of this.

If you could upgrade one piece of equipment in your kitchen, what would it be?
Probably me.

Which newfangled piece of equipment (i.e., sous vide equipment, the Pacojet, the Thermomix or a dehydrator) do you think will make its way to home kitchens?
Probably the dehydrator. If you go to the farmers' market and buy too much, this is perfect. A dehydrator could get lots of use in a home kitchen, especially in a cold climate. Get out the dehydrator, some John Coltrane and that's a crazy night.

What's your favorite cookbook?
I love Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It has a real human aspect to it, like you're having a conversation with Suzanne.

What chefs inspire you?
I've been inspired by Alice Waters for years. Suzanne Goin at Lucques is amazing, and a great friend. She got married at my restaurant—that's the most nervous I've ever been cooking. Also friends in New York: Mark Ladner [at Del Posto] and Mario [Batali]. Mark has an incredible gift for coaxing flavor out of something that seems so simple. And [Mario's] such a unique individual for a big restaurateur, because he can cook. He has an incredible palate and understanding of Italian food.

Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has been a big influence on chefs recently; what or who do you think will take his place?
I think Wylie [Dufresne]. When I went to his restaurant, a lot of people thought I wouldn't like it because my cooking is really rustic, but I was blown away by his preparation. His food has incredible integrity.

If you had $10 to spend on food, what would you buy?
I would go to my local farmers' market and find whatever is in the height of season and get $10 worth of it, whether it's New York ramps or English peas.

Do you have any food-related superstitions?
Not really. Well actually... I have this thing where, before I load wood in my oven, I always tap the wood three times on the ledge at the mouth of the oven. I don't know why I do this...I guess so it knocks off debris, but I have to tap the wood three times or it freaks me out.

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