Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Renato De Pirro of Ristorante Cavour

Yesterday, Ristorante Cavour executive chef Renato De Pirro told us how he came to Houston from Las Vegas. Today we'll hear about working with a Hell's Kitchen winner, Chef De Pirro's love for the Cowboys, and the new summer menu at Ristorante Cavour.

EOW: Heather West, the Season 2 winner of Hell's Kitchen, was promised a position as executive chef at a restaurant in the Red Rock Casino, but ended up in your kitchen at Terra Rossa as a "senior chef." That sounds really awkward.

RDP: Of course it was. You want to know the truth about it? (laughs) Heather's a great girl. I still talk to her, in fact I just talked to her two days ago. The Red Rock Casino had been open for a year, and I was the executive chef at Terra Rossa, its Italian restaurant. Heather was supposed to work at the casino's steakhouse, but then they decided to move her to Terra Rossa because we had an open kitchen. She never took the executive chef position. She worked as a senior chef, and she stayed with me for less than a year, mostly meeting people and so forth. It was awkward for me, especially at the start, and for my team as well. But I protected her; I knew her situation, from talking to Gordon Ramsay and everything. But she could have avoided that situation.

EOW: What could she have avoided?

RDP: When you win Hell's Kitchen, you get $200,000 and then you can do 12 appearances in a year at the restaurant where you're supposed to be the chef. Or, they give you $230,000 and you work at a restaurant for one year. And that's a one-year deal, no matter what. I was, not upset, but a little disappointed with Heather. When you win a show like that, you're popular for one year. After one year, there's another winner and you're done. So you've got to take advantage. You're always invited to events, and your exposure is at the maximum level. The winner from Season One, he found some investors and opened a restaurant. But Heather didn't do that, although that would have been the best thing for her. A lot of people were disappointed, especially on the Internet, saying it wasn't true that Heather got a restaurant. But, you know, it's a TV show.

EOW: I understand you're a big soccer fan.

RDP: Of course. Juventus. We're not doing so well this year. But I'm also a big American football fan.

EOW: Really? What's your team?

RDP: Believe it or not, the Cowboys. And that was before I came to Texas. You know, America's Team.

EOW: Well, that's what they call themselves.

RDP: (laughs) Of course. But I also go to see the Texans. I just like the game. I also follow the NBA - the Lakers - and now I follow the Dynamo. Mr. Borlenghi used to own them.

EOW: I've seen some promotional photos of you on a Vespa. What's the story there?

RDP: The Vespa was a marketing concept. We wanted to create this ongoing thing: me on the Vespa in front of the hotel, me on the Vespa at the farmers' market, me on the Vespa around Houston.

EOW: So normally you just drive a car?

RDP: I drive a car, yes. It's too dangerous to ride Vespas here.

EOW: You' re planning to change the menu three times a year. Are you saying that Houston has three seasons?

RDP: Yes. (laughs) Houston basically has three seasons. I changed it in October, and I changed it in March, and I will change it in June. I keep it longer in the summer because...

EOW: Because summer is very long here.

RDP: Yes. And that's when I'll go to Italy.

EOW: The new menu starts on June 20. Are there any dishes that you're particularly excited about?

RDP: Of course. One is a baby calamari that took me three months to research. It's not technically a baby squid, but a type of squid from the Mediterranean Sea that only grows to two inches. Very flavorful. In Italian it's called calamaretti.

EOW: Is there anything that will always be on the menu?

RDP: The osso bucco, the Granduca signature salad, and a polenta dish.

EOW: Are those the most popular dishes?

RDP: Mr. Borlenghi asked me to keep them. (laughs) "Renato, you can do whatever you want, but leave me this."

Tune in for part three of our Chef Chat with Renato De Pirro tomorrow, when we sample some exquisite Tuscan cuisine.

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Matthew Dresden
Contact: Matthew Dresden