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Q & A with Riccardo Buitoni

Riccardo's Picture.jpgRiccardo Buitoni isn’t an Italian-American chef raised in an Italian family on American soil.  He’s the real deal.  Born in Piedmont, Italy, he learned his craft on Italian soil, making fresh pasta with his mother.   His first cooking job was at a local restaurant in his hometown.  From there, Buitino cooked his way through London, with a stint at a five-star restaurant in Sardinia, before landing in New York in Tocqueville’s kitchen.   Buitino fell in love with Williamsburg and opened Aurora, his flagship restaurant in Brooklyn before it was fashionable to do so.  His innovative, regional cooking quickly earned critical attention over dishes, like chestnut pappardelle with wild boar ragu, roasted cauliflower fontina cheese fondue, and fresh bread baked daily. 
A few years later, he opened a Manhattan outpost in Soho with ambitious Piedmont cooking, including his mother’s recipe for slow-braised tripe.    His newest venture, is a Roman trattoria called Emporio located in Soho, is his best work to date.  Roman-style pizzas are his forte.  These wafer thin crust pizzas come with everything from house-cured pancetta to pesto to rosemary.  I highly recommend you begin dinner with his anchovy and buffalo mozzarella-stuffed zucchini blossoms.         


What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a fashion designer.  I had 5 years of technical studies in textile design in Italy.

What was your first job in food?  What did you learn?
It was in London at The Harbor Club.  Cooking for the royal family was exactly the same as cooking for a regular customer.

You’re not an Italian American chef.  You’re the real deal, born in Piedmont.  What food memories do you have from childhood?   Are there any specific dishes you’ve integrated into your menus? 
Making fresh pasta every Sunday with my mum. That is why fresh pasta is on all of my menus.

When did you move to the states and what was your first cooking job?
I moved here in 2002 and my first job was at Tocqueville in Union Square.

How did you decide to open a restaurant of your own and how did you to choose Brooklyn for Aurora?
I loved Williamsburg at first sight. I was living close by and the location was my partners’ idea, but it felt like a good challenge. We liked the vibe of the place and the idea of opening a destination place.

Aurora became not only a neighborhood favorite, but also attracted Manhattanites to cross the bridge for dinner.  What were you doing with Italian that others weren’t at the time?
We used real ingredients and real flavor, I guess.  The first 2 years, I was working almost 7 days a week.  We made everything on the premises from bread to pasta to sausages etc. and we still do.

How’s Aurora Soho different from the original?
It’s a different set up and the location is much smaller and doesn’t have a garden, but it’s very cozy and a little more refined.

You’re often seen having a glass of wine during service.  What’s your philosophy in the kitchen?
I’m not very calm at all.  I’m not a screamer, but I take my job very seriously and I hate mistakes due to lack of attention. Yes, I love a glass of wine during service. But, I’m the only one allowed to do so.

What inspired you to open a Roman trattoria that specialized in pizza in the opening of Emporio,.  Can we find you in the kitchen at Emporio these days or do you jump around every night?  Do you have a favorite?
The Roman pizzeria was always our dream.  My partners are from Rome and we like a thin crust pizza because we like to have more than one pizza.Lately I’m more often at Emporio for service. It’s new and needs more adjustments, but I spend at least two hours with my chefs of the other two restaurants to discuss specials, menu planning and special events.

What was it like opening Emporio without a liquor license?  Was that a tough obstacle and did you see a big change in business when you got one?

It was very tough.  I never thought I would do something like that but I guess it wasn’t too bad.  We had great exposure due to very affordable dining, and we knew it was pending.  We got delayed due to a corruption problem in the liquor authority, and we were thrilled when it finally arrived.

Do you also create the dessert menu at Emporio?
Yes, it’s very simple but we don’t have very much space on the line to create something more exiting.

How did the apple berry crisp, eggs benedict, and burger end up on your otherwise very Italian menu?
I know they’re not very Italian items, but a brunch menu is something different and those are items that I enjoy very much when I go out for brunch.

All of your restaurants are very affordable, which is obviously important considering the economy.  What are some of the most important ways you make your restaurants cost-efficient?
Never waste. It’s very important in every kitchen and so is shopping wisely for produce.  Menu planning is also very important; you can have a few dishes where you don’t make much profit if you balance it with some more cost efficient ones.

What is your favorite dish on the menu at Emporio?
Pizza for sure.

Which is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Chicken salad from the lunch menu.

Where do you like to go for Italian in New York?
I don’t have a favorite spot.  My wife complains because we always go to new places.

Any new projects on the horizon?  Spill the beans…
Yes a two month honeymoon in my favorite country in the world: India

Address: 231 Mott St., at Prince St.
Phone: (212) 966-1234

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