A fun Q&A with some of the state’s up-and-coming chefs as well as culinary superstars.

Photography by Sara Edwards Neal

 


ANTHONY VALINOTI (Online Exclusive)

DeLuca’s Pizzeria  / Hot Springs

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Are you a formally trained chef or an on-the-job-trained cook? I’ve had no formal training. I was a Wall Street guy for most of my life, so cooking for people is something very new to me.

Where were you trained? For a month in Naples, Italy, and I’ve literally taught myself to do what I do, in my kitchen at work, from that very basic foundation.

How many years have you worked in the food industry? DeLuca’s opened Nov. 22, 2013, so I now have two full years under my belt.

What or who inspired you to become a chef/cook? After leaving NYC, I moved to Las Vegas, then to LA, then to Miami, and I couldn’t understand why I just couldn’t get the pizza I grew up with. The pizza in these cities was just awful, so I decided if they couldn’t make what I wanted, I would do it myself.

What was the first item or meal you prepared? My earliest recollection would have to be something my sister Cristine and I made in her Easy-Bake Oven when we were kids, after watching Julia Child on TV.

What is your favorite meal to prepare? Breakfast. My eggs Benedict, I’m told, is pretty darn good.

What is your favorite meal? Lunch wins. I love to have a huge lunch, then take a nap after. There’s nothing better.

What is your favorite type of food to eat out? Steak au Poivre.

What is your favorite junk food? You know, they put an addictive chemical in that Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen fried chicken, which makes it almost impossible to say no to.

What is your favorite type of cuisine? I really love all types of food, but if I had to pick one I would go with French.

What is your favorite utensil, gadget or piece of equipment? A digital scale is invaluable for a baker. I use an Edlund Poseidon, which to me is the Cadillac of scales.

Where do you find ideas for new recipes?  From traveling, in cookbooks, while eating out and based on random, crazy thoughts.

For whom would you most like to prepare a meal? It would have to be Bob Dylan; I don’t know of anyone else who intrigues me more.

Music or silence? Music, played loudly. If you walk into my kitchen, music is always playing. I tend not to like to talk when I work — I like to concentrate on what I’m making — and music helps me focus.

Salty or sweet? Salty for sure — is there anything better than cured meats? I think not.

Bake or “nah”? Affirmative to baking; it’s the basis of what I do. It’s what separates DeLuca’s from most other places: the time and care we put into our dough. In essence, I’m trying to make great bread each and every day and use it in a shape other than a loaf. Our bread is a disc that I paint on.

Beer, wine or cocktails? All three please. I’m primarily a beer drinker, Anchor Steam Beer, out of San Francisco has been my absolute favorite for the past 20 years. The advent of great microbreweries in Arkansas is astounding: Superior Bath House, Lost Forty and Bubba Brews. These guys are doing it right. As I’ve gotten older, wine has been more prevalent in my life, especially while dining. There is this beautiful seduction that accompanies a great bottle of wine. On the other hand, I’ve never met a Negroni or a gin and tonic I didn’t like.

Do you cook at home? Negative, I’m a restaurant owner’s dream. I eat out seven days a week.

What food or meal do you wish you’d invented? The hamburger… it’s the perfect meal.

What food trends do you like or hate the most?

  • Obviously, I’m a big believer in local sourcing. I’m happy to see this spread; it’s so important to support the community of farmers where you live.
  • The purging of genetically modified ingredients from food chains is a big plus — although I’m not a fan of food chains — it’s a step in the right direction for people who are.
  • Nashville hot chicken is something I’m hoping to see more of all over the country. (Valinoti is referring to a method popularized in Nashville. Chicken thighs, wings and breasts are marinated in a water-based seasoning, floured and fried, then brushed with a cayenne-based paste. The chicken is then served on white bread and topped with pickles.)
  • Restaurants that are turning to tasting menus only, 18-25 little courses, that’s sheer bliss for me.