Claudio Urciuoli on Olive Garden, Truffle Oil, and the Weirdest Thing He Ever Ate (Which Is Pretty Weird)
Nikki Buchanan Claudio Urciuoli
3118 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
This is part one of my interview with Claudio Urciuoli, the executive chef at Noca. Come back Tuesday when Urciuoli talks about his stint at Il Fornaio, baking bread with Nancy Silverton, and one of his favorite restaurants in Phoenix.
Everybody and his mother jabbers about "seasonal" and "farm-to-table" these days -- words so over-used they're almost devoid of meaning. And while it's easy to talk the talk, only a handful of chefs and restaurants actually walk the walk. Even fewer take the philosophy to heart in the same laser-focused way that Claudio Urciuoli does. But then, cooking what's in season and sourcing great ingredients isn't a new idea or a trendy marketing tool for this Italian-born immigrant. It's a way of life.
Buchanan Italian imports sold at Noca
Urciuoli grew up in a family that practiced the Slow Food philosophy as a matter of course. His grandfather hunted, made wine for the family, and sold hazelnuts; his grandmother gardened, ran a salumeria, and cooked for the family. His father sold flour. Bread was everything and there was an oven, dating back to the 1800s, in the house. The family made vinegar and pickled vegetables. He grew up eating simple dishes made with fresh, ultra-local ingredients, nothing wasted or taken for granted. When Urciuoli figured out his destiny was not art -- as his art teacher mother had hoped -- he enrolled in culinary school in Liguria and upon graduation, began working in high-end restaurants around Europe.
Having fallen in love with the United States on an earlier visit, Urciuoli moved to this country when he was 23, landing on the East Coast but soon finding his way to California, where he got a job at the Four Seasons In Newport Beach but soon moved to Il Fornaio. Being surrounded by other Italians felt like home and Urciuoli stayed for nine years, eventually running the restaurant group's most profitable restaurant while helping open new ones as the company expanded. After a brief detour to Vegas (where he opened Bellagio), Urciuoli returned to California to work for Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery, helping her grow the business from boutique operation to national brand.