Interview with Chef Anthony Bombaci of Nana - Dallas

May, 2007

Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Tony Bombaci: My father’s father came to the United States as a Sicilian immigrant and brought that Old-World Italian cooking culture. I enjoyed cooking early on and knew it was something I could be happy doing. My parents owned a bar in Wisconsin where I grew up and I started washing dishes there when I was about 16. Growing up in that environment made me know it was something I could do.

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
TB: After I graduated from CIA in 1988 I worked all over the country. I worked at Maxine’s in New York and Le Français in Chicago. I worked under Gary Danko for one and a half years at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and from there moved to Barcelona to work at the Hotel Arts. The restaurant named me Executive Chef to open Enoteca Bombaci so I stayed in Barcelona for nine years working pretty insane hours.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
TB: I went to the CIA so I think culinary school is definitely a good thing, but as long as you have a good attitude and a strong drive and desire to succeed, you aren’t limited by the lack of a formal culinary education.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
TB: I always do behavior based interviews. I ask people about the books they read, their icons, and their inspirations. Finding out about a person’s personality tells me a lot about how they behave in a kitchen. I also ask them to recall a time when they were struggling and how they dealt with it, as well as how they handle criticism. And I ask what the first thing they remember eating was.

AB: Who are some of your mentors?
TB: Jose Gutierrez, who taught me to put all of my heart in to what I do in order to do my best and Gary Danko, because he really helped me get my start in the industry. Also Joel Antunes of Joel in Atlanta, Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, Ferran Adria of El Bulli, and Jordi Butron of Espai Sucre in Barcelona.

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
TB: The people on my culinary team that I work with everyday.

AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
TB: Sardines for their texture, bacalao for its texture, resistance and rich mouth feel, and blood sausage for its depth of flavor.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
TB: Sweet and salty is a classic favorite combination. I also like fruit to balance out savory ingredients, like bananas and cilantro. Green apples, yogurt, and granola are great too.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TB: A microplane and a thermocirculator.

AB: Describe a culinary technique that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way.
TB: I make this unique wild rice popcorn. I start with a smoking hot pan, add just enough oil to coat, and drop in raw rice. I also combine green apples, light syrup, and citric acid, pour it in a vacuum packed bag and let them sit for a few days. The apples stay raw but appear to be cooked.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
TB: The Asfalto Culinario by Xabier Gutierrez because it’s not standard. It’s very complex and thought provoking.

AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
TB: San Sebastian because I feel right at home there, and I'd like to go to Italy and Thailand to do some exploring.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
TB: The new cuisine out there is being geared toward a limited, more elevated audience.

AB: What languages do you speak?
TB: Spanish because I spent nine years in Barcelona.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
TB: A menu should not be too pretentious. The challenge is to keep your food interesting but to offer a little something for everyone. And, of course, the bottom line is that the food has to taste good.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
TB: Woodworking and sculpture. I wanted to be in graphic design before I wanted to be a chef.

AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
TB: I want to open a business that is really simple but really good.