2013 Carolinas Rising Star Brian Canipelli of Cucina24

2013 Carolinas Rising Star Brian Canipelli of Cucina24
November 2013

Like many chefs, Brian Canipelli found his way to food by a process of elimination. Growing up in Atlanta, Canipelli knew immediately he didn’t want a big city kind of life style. After failing out of the University of Georgia, he made his way to a steakhouse and realized culinary school might be the way to go. Immersed in the lifestyle, the cooking, and the camaraderie (not to mention the technique and tradition) Canipelli had a feeling he was in the right place—and he hasn’t left since.

Graduating from Johnson & Wales in 2002, Canipelli didn’t take the traditional route of pursuing stages. Before opening his own place, he was a line cook at Asheville, North Carolina’s Savoy for eight months, followed by work at Chef Jacob Sessoms’s Table and almost three years as a sous chef at Rezaz, where he learned about the business side of restaurant ownership. Along the way, Canipelli won the National Truffle Festival’s Risotto competition. And in 2008, just six years after culinary school, Canipelli opened his own restaurant, Cucina 24 in the city that taught him how to cook.

At the helm of Cucina, Capinelli achieves the unlikely, if not impossible, combining local ingredients and Southern foodways with the flavors of his Italian heritage. The unifying element, marrying Asheville to Italy, seems to be straightforward techniques that utilize local products. Working alongside Sous Chef Lauren Macellaro and Sous Chef/Brother Brad, Canipelli builds his menu based on farmers' yields and the progressive instincts of an Asheville-trained chef. 

I Support: Welcome Table


Why: We got involved to help reduce hunger in Western North Carolina.

Interview with 2013 Carolinas Rising Star Chef Brian Canipelli

Dan Catinella: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Brian Canipelli: Culinary school was the start for me. I worked in chain restaurants in high school and while I was going to college. I attended Johnson & Wales in Charleston, and after that I moved to Asheville. I think what drew me in was the camaraderie. I had a bunch of friends that were in restaurants, and I knew that I wanted to work with my hands.

DC: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?

BC: After Johnson & Wales, I started at Savoy, which is now closed, as a line cook. I quickly moved to sous chef, too quickly, and at around a year into it, they asked me to be the chef. I stayed there for two and a half years. I left Savoy wanting something new and went to Table, which at the time was doing something totally different than everyone else. It wasn’t like a meat, veg, and starch restaurant. Jacob Sessoms was cooking there in a totally different way and looking at things in a completely new way, as well. He was looking at farms for vegetables and not just waiting for deliveries. After a couple of years, I was ready to start doing my own thing, and Jacob and I were considering it. For some other reasons, I took a sous chef position working with a man named Rezza at a Mediterranean spot. I was there for about two years and asked myself, "What do I want to do next?" That’s when I decided to open my own spot. It’s been about five and a half years now.

DC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?

BC: I would. Culinary school for me was good, because it got me completely interested in cooking. It taught me technique and all that. I’ve seen just as many people that don’t go that route and still do great things though, so I think it’s all about how much you put into it and what you want out of it.

DC: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?

BC: I don’t know. Interviews for me are a little bit different. I’d much rather get someone in and watch them work. I feel like, talking to someone in an interview they just as easily tell you what you want to hear. With a trail, I get to see how they move, how clean they work, how organized they are, and more. I do always ask what kind of food they’re into or what cookbooks they read. But for me, it’s more about the way you handle yourself on the line.

DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?

BC: It’s kind of always changing. When I first opened, there was a need for an Italian restaurant around here. There was no restaurant cooking real Italian food instead of American-Italian food. So when we opened, that’s the niche we wanted to fill. As the years have gone by, it’s kind of turned into how an Italian cook would cook if they came into Asheville. Maybe they would use prosciutto in Italy, but here we use country ham, or maybe butter beans instead of favas. In the end we try and keep the philosophy if Italian cooking—good ingredients, simple and clean flavors, and being true to the region you’re living in.

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