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Interview with Best New Chef Pino Maffeo

Why he became a chef. "Ever since I was four years old, since I could remember anything, all I wanted to do was cook. When my mom realized I was serious, when I was about eight, she brought me into the kitchen whenever anything was happening—pickling, preserving, baking. Growing up in my family, every single person was a food snob. It's ridiculous. My family has a house in Italy; the second I get there, my cousins will call and say, 'We've got these clams, we're coming over.' I'll say, please, please—I'm on vacation."

Most memorable cooking experience. "During the 2004 Democratic National Convention everybody was here. We had Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and the Farrelly brothers upstairs and the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing in the restaurant's parking lot. But every time that I cook at home, with my family, I always say to myself, that was great.'"

Biggest influence. His mother. "She's the best cook in the world. When I'd come home from clubbing at 2 a.m., first she'd yell at me, then she'd start cooking. I never ever came home from school when there wasn't something on top of the stove wrapped in foil—stuffed peppers, pigs feet, polenta pie."

Most humbling moment. "When, today?? It happens every day. But when I'm just cooking and have a beautiful Japanese knife in my hand, I'm so happy."

Childhood specialty. Pressed pickled eggplant that he made with his mom. "Not because I'm cocky, but I think it's the best in the world. I told my mom we should bottle it. She said she's too old now. I still do it here, sometimes we sneak it into a dish."

Most memorable meal. An unexpected dinner in Campania, Italy. "Me, my sister, my nephew, and my girlfriend were driving in Candida, in the Avellino region (that's my mother and father's home town), and we're starving—you hear this story all the time. We stop at this little place with cheesy tiled floors called Club del Buongustaio, the owners are watching TV. This lady—she had her slippers on—started rolling out pasta in front of us. They served us three kinds of fresh pasta, one that was rolled between parsley leaves, house-cured prosciutto, house-cured anchovies, pizza that they served by the yard. The bill came and it was like $80. People from Naples go there now, it's a destination for people from Italy—and in Italy, people don't travel for food."

Favorite cheap eat/favorite guilty pleasure. Doritos—Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch.

What he'd be if he wasn't a chef. A punk rock bass guitarist.

Favorite cooking show. The old Julia Child series. "I grew up with her. When everyone else was watching MTV, I had Julia Child on."

Who he'd love to open up a restaurant with. Joël Robuchon.

Most coveted piece of equipment. "I have it all. I have things off-premises that would surprise people. There are some things I don't have anymore, because I'm done with them. I'm all set."

Published June 2006
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