Interview with Chef Paul Piscopo of XYZ At W Hotel - San Francisco
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.
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.
Chef Paul PiscopoXYZ AT W HOTEL
181 Third St.
San Francisco, CA 94103