Chris Bianco on Jamie Oliver, the Local Chefs He Most Admires, and What Makes an Awesome Pizza Awesome
Buchanan Bianco at Town & Country
Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco
623 E. Adams Street, Phoenix, 602-258-8300; 609 E. Adams St., 602-528-3699
Pizzeria Bianco/ Trattoria Bianco
4743 N. 20th Street (Town & Country), Phoenix, 602-368-3273
4404 N.Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-234-2100, pizzeriabianco.com
-- Chris Bianco To Open Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson This Fall
-- Chris Bianco Opens Full-Blown Pizzeria Bianco at Town & Country; Italian Restaurant Moves to Back Dining Room and Morphs to Trattoria Bianco
This is part one of my interview with Chris Bianco, chef-owner of Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco. Come back Tuesday when Bianco dishes about Giovanni Scorzo (Andreoli Italian Grocer), his upcoming pizza cookbook, and what he loves about Italian cooking in Italy.
Is Chris Bianco a little crazy? You have to wonder, given the stand-on-end hair, the manic monologues -- delivered at such a rapid-fire pace it's hard to keep up -- and the overall sense of dishevelment and distraction. His friends would probably say, "Yes, in a good way," and they're surely right. Lots of creatives are a little touched (Salvador Dali comes to mind), dwelling in an interior space that bears little connection to what the rest of us plodding earthbound types call "the real world."
I remember part of a conversation Bianco and I had many years ago, he on one side of his work station by the pizza oven, me on the other. He said something deep and insightful about life (and because my own mind has been gone for many years now, I can't recall what) and when I let out a little "wow!" (or words to that effect), he simply said, "I have a lot of time to think while I stand here making pizzas." So he's this person, too, a meditative soul whose husky voice and faint Bronx accent make him sound like a thug until you actually listen to the content, often peppered with words like "gratitude" and "blessings."
What most people don't see behind the fast-talking, bantering persona (a master of analogy, the man is also seriously funny) are Bianco's sensitivity to criticism and his profound insecurity. The nasty comments made on social media forums about long lines and waiting at Pizzeria Bianco? They cut like a knife. And I nearly fell off my chair when Bianco recently reminded me of a review I wrote over 25 years ago in which I described the amount of basil he put on the pizza as "microscopic." He repeated it to me as if it were yesterday.
Which is crazy, indeed, considering he's been showered with awards, praise and adulation ever since: an unheard of 29 out of 30 points in the Zagat Survey (2000); a James Beard Award, Best Chef Southwest (2003); Ed Levine of the NY Times called his pizza "best in the country" (2004); and Jeffrey Steingarten of Vogue Magazine called his pizza "best in the world" (a sentiment echoed by Ruth Reichl), the same year. And now he opens UK pizza restaurants with mega-star Jamie Oliver.