Andrew Carmellini has had a busy summer–he’s recently opened Locanda Verde, a rustic Italian spot in Tribeca. The chef grew up in Cleveland, and trained at the CIA, where he cooked for Governor Mario Cuomo on the weekends. Carmellini was chef de cuisine at Cafe Boulud for six years before moving to A Voce, where he cooked until last year.
We caught up with Carmellini about what drew him to restaurants (the girls); where he eats after hours; what Mario Cuomo liked to eat; and why he thinks Locanda Verde has the just the right number of NYT stars.
How did your cooking evolve during the years you were at A Voce?
I think it’s more appropriate to [ask that question about] Cafe Boulud, really. At Cafe I was cooking my ass off. We used to joke it was like Noah’s Ark — two of everything in house at all times. Five different pans for every dish. 10 specials every day. It was great times for sure, but I wanted to be in business for myself and wanted to focus on my expression of Italian cooking.
How does your approach at Locanda Verde differ from that at A Voce?
Well, I left Cafe Boulud after six years to open something Italian. I felt after living in Italy for a year and taking over 20 trips there, that I could express myself in Italian with a more rustic approach than through an “alta cucina” approach. At Locanda Verde, it’s a better fit for that rustic approach in presentation, flavor, and price.
What dish epitomizes your style at Locanda Verde?
I think the porchetta sandwich does. I love that sandwich! Sliced moist porchetta with grilled onions and melted provolone on a toasted green olive bun. It’s kind of a cross between a Philly pork sandwich and a muffaletta — definitely an American-Italian sandwich.
Any plans for future restaurants and/or cookbooks?
No restaurant plans yet. Locanda Verde is jamming, and I want people to leave happy right now. As far as cookbooks go, Urban Italian just went to its second printing, and many of those second run copies have been sold already, which is even more exciting. My wife Gwen and I just sold an idea for a second book I’ll have to fill you in on later since I’ll probably change the idea three or four more times.
When you started cooking at 14, did you know you wanted to do it for life?
No way! I went to go work in restaurants for money and liked it because of the free beer and the older girls that worked in the front. HA! Who knows what they are doing when they are 14?
You cooked for Mario Cuomo when he was governor: What was his favorite dish and what did he dislike? Were you nervous to cook for him?
He loved lamb shank and apple pie. I remember I was working for free at Bouley and tried to replicate some of the dishes I saw there. He didn’t like those. I was 19. I had no freaking idea what I was doing.
Do you read your reviews? If so, how do you deal with a less-than-great review?
Of course I read them. I always obsess over any critiques I get and try to see how we can improve upon them. I’ve been through two 4-star, three 3-star and one 2-star New York Times reviews throughout my career — either as a chef or a cook. To date, the worst review I got was from Steve Cuozzo at the Post when I was at Cafe Boulud. I was off, he had a bouillabaisse. He destroyed it, saying there was not enough garlic. That was 1998.
At Locanda Verde, I think star-wise we are exactly where we should be for the type of place we are — a neighborhood Italian restaurant on a bustling corner in Tribeca.
What’s in your fridge at home?
Lots of spice pastes, cornichons, salad that Gwen [his wife] made, meatloaf that Gwen made (makes an awesome sandwich), two beers, bottle of Champagne, milk, olives, some cheeses, and some fruit that I should have thrown away last week.
Drink of choice?
Something with gin.
Where do you go to eat and drink after hours or on your day off?
Depends on the mood. I love Ippudo and Mercadito Cantina. Chinatown Brasserie is great for Dim Sum. I had my first post-opening meal at Corton last week — pretty awesome.
Are there any other chefs cooking Italian in the city that you think are particularly good?
That’s an easy one: Michael White [Marea], Dave Pasternack [Esca], and Mark Ladner [Del Posto].