Noca Owner Eliot Wexler on Chef Claudio Urciuoli: The Burrata Addiction, Tinkering With Dough, and "Adding Colors to the Palette"
A few weeks ago, a series of rat-a-tat news events left Valley foodies gripping their collective forks and then poking themselves with them to make sure what they were reading was true: chef Claudio Urciuoli had parted ways with business partner and James Beard Award-winner Chris Bianco, chef Matt Taylor had left Noca, and finally, chef Claudio Urciuoli had replaced Matt Taylor at Noca.
Urciuoli's Squid Ink Chitarra: mussels, clams, sugar snap peas.
Now that the dust has settled, I've had the chance to ask Noca owner Eliot Wexler a few questions about his new chef, what the change means (and doesn't mean) for his restaurant, and what diners can expect to see on the menu.
Here's what he had to say:
EW: Noca is an ingredient-driven restaurant, and whomever is the chef is a muse for our ingredients. Claudio takes the focus on ingredients seriously in his approach to cuisine, and most of the ingredients he uses are cultivated by someone he knows or has significant context to his style of cooking. He's from a coastal town in Italy, and the ocean and fish are his greatest loves. To turn him loose with the pristine seafood we source is exciting.
His background is very compelling to me as well. He was part of Larry Mandel's original crew at Il Fornaio in the early 90's, he worked for Sirio Maccioni at Le Cirque & Osteria Circo, Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery Cafe, Kimpton Hotel Group with Taggia, Prado at the Montelucia, and with Chris Bianco at Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, and Italian Restaurant.
LH: How do the two of you know each other?
EW: I've been friends with him since he came to town in 2004, when he first cooked for me out of the banquet kitchen of the Kimpton Hotel prior to the kitchen at Taggia being built.
LH: What's something not many people know about Urciuoli?
EW: Claudio brought the love of burrata to Phoenix menus back in 2004. Prior to his arrival, burrata was not in the market. You could say he started the addiction.