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Paul Piscopo
XYZ AT W HOTEL
181 Third St.
San Francisco
(415) 817-7836

Biography »

Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: According to your bio you were inspired to start cooking at an early age by your Italian grandmother. How did this inspiration result into a career working with some of the country’s top chefs?
Paul Piscopo: When I was young, it was more an exposure to food and being force-fed by my grandmother - smade me appreciate good, wholesome food. Cooking is also in my personality because it’s a hands-on, tactile skill. And, of course, the end product is something you can enjoy.

AB: Do you feel that attending The Culinary Institute of America was important to the development of your skills as a chef? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
PP: I worked with people who went to the CIA and they told me that if I wanted to take it to the next level I had to go to school. I think culinary school is a great asset - especially for opening doors. It also provided a sense of camaraderie, working closely with people who are your peers in the field. It helps motivate you as well.

AB: Can you talk about your experiences working at some of the top Bay Area restaurants such as Aqua, Oliveto, Charles Nob Hill and Masa’s?
PP: I worked with Ron Siegel at both Charles Nob Hill and Masa’s, and he is definitely one of my mentors. Ron is a very easy person to get along with. He taught me about attention to detail. Both restaurants were about taking food to the next level. At Aqua I learned to work in an intense environment, and at Oliveto I had great exposure to the farmer-chef connection.

AB: Which of these experiences and/or restaurants do you feel was most influential in shaping your culinary style and business philosophy?
PP: XYZ Restaurant is where I have learned the most about running a business. I have a great executive team – they are nurturing and great at holding people accountable. Since we are located in a hotel we have a lot of resources available to us. I’m given the freedom to do whatever I want.

AB: Are there any unsung regional ingredients that everyone should know about?
PP: Being in San Francisco we use just about everything, but for me I would say chicken livers are under appreciated. They are very flavorful and you can pair them with just about everything - sweet, spicy or savory. They’re also cheap and readily available.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
PP: Knives are always important. I have Japanese knives by Mizuno that are incredibly sharp when well taken care of, and they are really easy to maintain.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
PP: Working with Ron I learned a lot about pickling. Sometimes I get on a kick and I start to pickle just about everything - onions, beets, cherries – more fruit than anything else.

AB: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
PP: Treat your job as education. Learn something new each day and take it to the next level. Focus on something you do each day and figure out how to do it a little better.

AB:What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
PP: Can you commit for a year? Commitment is imperative. Also, for a sous chef or manager I ask, “Do you want my job?” That is someone who is going to be a strong candidate. You can usually tell by the amount of focus and energy they put into the interview.

AB: Do you ask them to cook in an interview?
PP: Yes, anything they want. I want to see a representation of what they do and enjoy.

AB: Is there a place that you want to travel to for culinary researching purposes? Why there?
PP: I’ve visited Europe, mostly France and Italy. Spain would be the next. It’s a cuisine that I am not very familiar with, so I would love to travel and see it.

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Paul Piscopo
XYZ AT W HOTEL | San Francisco

Thirty-three year old Paul Piscopo was raised in an Italian-American household in Westchester, NY, and was inspired early on by his grandmother’s cooking. Paul attended the Culinary Institute of America, and upon graduating he joined the kitchen of Aqua in San Francisco. Next he went on to Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland before teaming up with chef Ron Siegel, both at Charles Nob Hill and then at Masa’s. Siegel subsequently gave Paul a shot at opening a restaurant in Tokyo modeled after Charles Nob Hill. In early 2003, Paul accepted a position at XYZ in the W Hotel as Executive Sous Chef, taking over as Executive Chef this past June. Paul’s menu features Modern Californian cuisine with French Provençal and Italian influences, utilizing seasonally fresh local ingredients. His approach to cooking is that of a perpetual student, and Piscopo insists on l earning something new each day.

 

Sardine Farcie Provençal
Chef Paul Piscopo of XYZ at the W Hotel – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by StarChefs.com

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients:

    Sardines:
  • 6 large fresh sardines
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup grated reggiano cheese
    Ratatouille:
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled and diced
  • 1 eggplant, diced and pan roasted
  • 6 bell peppers, 3 red and 3 yellow, roasted and peeled
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ bunch basil
  • 2 zucchinis, washed, blanched and diced
  • 2 yellow squash, washed, blanched and diced
    Potato Gnocchi:
  • 5 Russet potatoes, fully baked on a layer of course salt
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    Pesto:
  • 1 cup arugula, loosely packed
  • ½ bunch basil
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons reggiano cheese
  • Olive oil to taste

Method:

For Sardines:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Scale and gut sardines. Split from bellies and fillet out the bones, careful not to cut through the back. Clip off the fins. Lay out the fish skin side down. In a mixing bowl fold egg yolk, bread crumbs, and grated cheese together. Take a spoonful and place in the center of the fish. Fold the fish with the head and tail together and secure with a toothpick. Do this with all the fish. Bake in oven for about 4 minutes.

For Ratatouille:
In a heavy pot, sweat onions in a little olive oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the tomatoes and cook until almost dry. Add the eggplant and roasted peppers, and cook until liquid is reduced. Add minced garlic and stew a few minutes more. Tie the basil into a tight bundle so that it may be removed later and toss into mix. Allow to cool and add zucchini and squash. Season with salt and pepper.

For Gnocchi:
Put a large pot of water on the stove with water to boil. Open cooked potatoes and pass through a food mill. Place milled potatoes on a large flat surface and create a well. Season with salt and pepper. Dust with half of the flour. Crack the eggs in the center. Using a bench scraper begin to incorporate all the ingredients. Depending on how wet the mixture is, you may need to add more flour - it will depend on feel. Once you feel you have the correct consistency, knead lightly into a congruent mass. Divide evenly into smaller portions and roll out into long snake – like segments about the diameter of a nickel and cut into ½- inch sections. Lightly flour so that they do not stick together. Drop ¼ of the gnocchi into the water at a time. Once they float, use a skimmer to remove gnocchi and place into shock water. Drain out and reserve on a sheet tray.

For Pesto:
Place all of the ingredients apart from the olive oil in a Robot Coupe and blend. Slowly add the olive oil until the desired consistency. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble and Serve:
In a sauté pan, brown the gnocchi in a small amount of oil, season lightly and finish with a knob of butter. Arrange gnocchi on a plate.  Once the fish are cooked, remove the toothpick and place 3 or 4 sardines head and tail up around with the gnocchi. Drizzle with pesto and garnish with baby arugula or mizuna leaves.

 

Wine Pairing:
Grüner Veltliner, Hiedler, “Löss” Kamptal, Austria 2004

 

Interview Cont'd
AB: Which place that you’ve already been to has had the greatest impact on your menus?
PP: I was in Japan for a good while and I would love to go back. The cuisine itself is amazing. You see so much and taste so much. There are tempura shops and noodle shops. Everyone takes tempura to the highest level of excellence.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco? What is the most memorable meal that you’ve ever had?
PP: There is this comfortable and cool little place called Q that is great for a good burger and calamari. Quince and Delfina are always up there. I also like The Dining Room at the Ritz- Carlton. My most memorable meal was in San Remo, Italy. I wandered into this restaurant and didn’t assume too much. I ordered fritto misto and they brought out fried eel, squid and octopus. The ravioli con funghi was smothered in truffles and the veal was piled high with porcini mushrooms. I was in awe!

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry right now?
PP: For a while, it was all about small plates - but there has been an evolution of that. The trend is more toward sharing and family style eating. This involves a lot of different courses. There is a deviation from just appetizers and entrees to more of a community table.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
PP: I would like to have my own business – maybe something smaller - or a couple of different businesses. I would want to diversify by having a few smaller restaurants.

AB: How would you come up with the concepts for these restaurants?
PP: I haven’t thought about it too much. I’ll have to put energy into finding a location that might determine the concepts. I have to be pretty open-minded.


   Published: October 2005

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