Nick LaRosa of Nook in Arcadia on Cooking for John McCain and Why the California Glove Law Doesn't Matter
Today, we're back for part two of our interview with Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook in Arcadia. If you're wondering about the photo above, the fun-loving chef was channeling his inner Iron Chef during our photo shoot. Today, we chat with LaRosa about the possibility of a second restaurant (hint: Nook Pasta) and learn about his favorite food memory. If you missed part one of our interview, in which he talks about working with Gio Osso, you can read it here.
Lauren Saria Chef Nick LaRosa strikes a pose. Lauren Saria Inside Nook
The mostly Italian-minded menu at Nook features dishes like chicken marsala, linguini and clams, and rosemary grilled salmon. A large part of the menu is dedicated to pizzas, which get wood-fired in the largest pizza oven in the state. If LaRosa is the one working the giant red oven -- you'll know him by his strikingly blue eyes -- it's a good idea to grab a seat at the bar and chat. Ask about the time he taught John McCain how to break down a tenderloin.
LaRosa catered for McCain for a year and a half, including during the senator's presidential campaign, though that was just one pit stop on LaRosa's long history in the kitchen.
"Everything revolved around food," LaRosa says of his family get-togethers growing up in Connecticut. "I was a fat little kid, too -- so I loved eating."
He remembers spending his allowance on ingredients to practice different recipes, and in high school, "all my friend were in, like, wood shop and I was in home ec sewing and making cupcakes," he says.
At 16, he started working at a pizzeria and, after high school, ran the kitchen at his cousin's bar and grill. After his cousin sold the bar, LaRosa decided it was time to enroll in culinary school. By his second year, he was a chef's assistant at Johnston and Wales.
Upon graduation LaRosa went to work in Cape Cod, landing a job at Willowbend Country Club, owned by former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman. During his time there, he met and cooked for a roster of notable athletes (ask him about the time he cooked for Michelle Wie), but after four years, he decided to move to Arizona to be near his mother.
He began at the bottom when he started with HMS Host just a few months after settling in Arizona -- even "turning to the dark side" for a while and working management in the front of the house. As the years went by, he continued to climb the corporate ladder, until becoming chef de cuisine under executive chef Gio Osso.
Even though he's out of that game, LaRosa still has plenty of ambition.
"We're just getting started," LaRosa says. "There are a lot of irons in the fire right now."
He and owners Frank Vairo and Tagan Dering already are scouting locations for a handful of other concepts they're thinking about opening. A Nook Pasta could be in the future, as well as a sports bar concept and some sort of quick, maybe even fast, food.
"I want to keep it all open," LaRosa says.
Laura Hahnefeld Porco e Funghi