Giovanni Rocchio in his Private Dining Room at the New Valentino's
To say Giovanni Rocchio is busy would be an understatement. The original New Yorker is chef/owner of two restaurants -- the recently relocated, award-winning Valentino's Cucina Italiana and the new Osteria Acqua & Farina.
To go along with this week's review of Osteria, we decided to catch up with the busy chef to see how everything is working out. For the record: this entire conversation took place while Rocchio rolled, cut, and pressed homemade gnocchi while working alongside his crew of Italian chefs. And yes, he does speak fluent Italian.
Clean Plate Charlie: First things first, you have a wood-burning oven. Is your pizza Neapolitan? There are very specific laws in Naples about how a Neapolitan pizza must be made.
Rocchio: No. Not really. The Neapolitans droop. The pizza guy is from Naples, but he worked in Torino. It's more of a northern type; it stands up and doesn't droop in the middle.
Where do you source your ingredients?
I get a lot of stuff from Italy. For the pizza I use some Italian wheat, but I mix it with hard wheat from the states.
Why did you decide to move one restaurant and open another in the same location?
Well, we wanted to move Valentino's. And we already had the wood-burning oven over there. I thought we needed a good Italian pizza place in Fort Lauderdale. Anthony's is good, but it's not Italian. I went with it.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to food?
[Thinks. Walks away to grab more dough. Comes back]
I try to push the envelope--keep things exciting. I like to play with different flavors and old classics; like plating with a different twist. I mean, the classics have been around for a long time for a reason, because they work. We intentionally want to be different here. I want my customers saying, "Wow. How'd you come up with that idea?". Oh, and your work is only as good as the ingredients and products you get. If you're products are not good, neither is the dish.
Do you have a favorite dish?
Over there [Osteria Acqua & Farina]? One of the homemade pastas. I'd say the orrechiette with crispy chicken livers, caramelized cipollinis and sage. Here [Valentino's], I love the ricotta cavatelli with braised ossobucco. And I really like the ham and egg pasta. It's oversized ravioli with ricotta, spinach, and duck egg in the center. I serve it with sliced truffles and crispy pancetta.
You opened Osteria Acqua & Farina this summer. How has it been going so far?
We've been busy at night. A lot of people are still finding out about us, but lunch is still quiet. It's starting to pick up, because customers are now starting to figure out that they can get classic Valentino's dishes at better price points.
What is your overall goal with Osteria Acqua & Farina?
Great pastas. Awesome pizza. Good quality fish from New York. I want to give my customers the opportunity to have a great plate of pasta with a casual atmosphere and a lower price point.