Starting this month, The Chic Sheet, will begin a monthly series profiling some of the talented faces behind the scene at many of Houston’s top restaurants. In this awesome restaurant town, for a foodie, such as myself, I found the selections and the decisions very difficult. I am a fashion blogger, after all, so my interviews will include the culinary philosophies of each, their individual approach to creating a style that is all their own and a few insights into what makes them some of the chic-est guys and gals in town. Having said that, I had to include, of course, where they shop, what they wear, in and out of the kitchen and any unique insights into what gives them their total style!
Our first Chic Chef, Renato De Pirro of Ristorante Cavour, is the result of a search by Giorgio Borlenghi who had been seeking that perfect Italian for their luxurious signature restaurant, Ristorante Cavour in their priceless little gem, The Hotel Granduca. For a hotel that epitomizes the finest in European-style Italian dwelling, their choice was quite obviously, the most authentic Italian chef they could find. In Renato, they found a man, whose roots take him back to his Tuscan upbringing where his fondest memories are of learning to cook at the side of his beloved mother and grandmother. He is a man who clearly loves his Italian food, visits his homeland regularly, and stays very connected with Italy. He has made a lifelong challenge of researching and adapting the many traditions of the regions of Italy that he loves and modernizing them to the appreciation of the many American food lovers that frequent the hotel and it’s fine eatery.
When chatting with Renato it was fascinating to hear of his knowledge of the history of Italian food over the centuries and more specifically, he listed for me, each decade for the last 40 years and what Italian style was popular during that decade, up until the current times and how he has adapted it all.
The following is my interview with Renato De Pirro, after enjoying a tasty lunch, of warm minestrone soup, the De Pirro way, which sounds particularly yummy on a day like today, when the warmth and coziness of this restaurant has never felt more desirable.
RP: You have been here for almost a year and have taken a gradual approach to changing the menu to make it yours, what are some of your favorite additions/changes?
RDP: First, I have decided to change the menu three times a year and intend to use as much natural, home grown ingredients as possible, hence, the seasonal menus. However, since it is authentic Italian, I do import many ingredients from Italy. As for favorites, or what is my signature dish I don’t like that question because I consider all dishes to be “my babies”, however a few specials are the foie gras, the piedmont beef and I will be introducing a new pasta on the Spring Menu, due out March 21st, that is a personal favorite because it is made from a grain that dates back to the 18th century.
RP: How would you describe your culinary style?
RDP: Very simple, quality-driven; do not like to manipulate nature and although a lot of my Italian ingredients are imported, it is not uncommon to find me at an Urban Market, personally selecting fresh fruits and vegetables for the restaurant.
RP: Now about YOU….the following is a summation of our chat about Renato, the Man.
He enjoys painting and has even been known to sell paintings for charities in Las Vegas, his former home. There he worked as Executive Chef for Sirio Maccioni’s Osteria del Circo at the Bellagio. He describes his artistic style as a mixture of classic with contemporary, which I would say, also totally describes his personal style.
He likes to work in his white jacket from France, his clogs from Sweden, comfy pants, which his fave is RED (I knew I liked this guy!), and most of his clothes are purchased on his many trips home to Italy where he buys his leather jackets, cashmere sweaters and Todd’s shoes. He pointed out to me that a unique styling thing with him is that he wears a watch as he’s a busy guy and needs to stay on top of the time…this accessory is not something that most chefs choose to wear. Too difficult for their line of work! Sauces and pastry doughs could cause some real havoc on your timepiece, I guess?! He rides a Vespa to markets and just about anywhere he wants to go and at home, he enjoys his time with his pet Pug Cecia.
Did I mention his favorite food is PASTA, he could and does eat it most days. I revealed to him that one of my favorite memories of my recent trip to Florence and Tuscany was that I ate Pasta every single day. Unfortunately, I could not continue this ritual when I returned home, as unlike this 6ft+ guy, on my small frame calories do come into play! The great news about Ristorante Cavour, is that I can indulge like an Italian Princess there but because Renato’s new menus reflect the many things I believe in like buying local and fresh daily, I can also, eat healthy as well…and the taste plus the ambience are sensational!
For more information about Ristorante Cavour and to make reservations, visit www.granducahouston.com