The Upper [Pizza] Crust

Interview by Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

You opened La Madia in October of 2007. What were you doing before you decided to open a pizza restaurant?

I've been in the business for my entire professional life. I studied at the CIA, after which I partnered with Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group, and created a few concepts with other partners, one being Maggiano's Little Italy. That was in 1991. From the time I did that to the time we sold it, I did some extensive traveling in Italy and become passionate about Italian food—especially pizza. When I left the company in 2005, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

It sounds like Italian cuisine is close to your heart. What did you take from your tastings around Europe that you wanted to incorporate into your own pizza?

I think European cooking and food is very much a cultural and social experience. It's all about the ingredients. In developing La Madia, I took a lot of pride in procuring some of the best products available, usually very seasonally-influenced ingredients for simply-prepared dishes.

How would you describe your style of pizza?

I put a lot of time and effort into creating a great crust. I use only high-quality, finely-milled “00” flour. My vision was to have a Neapolitan-inspired crust—a tender dough, but with a crispier texture than a traditional Neapolitan pizza.

Tell us about how and where you source your most important ingredients.

I use Academia Barilla 100-percent Italian extra virgin olive oil. Generally, I like to know where my ingredients come from, so any time I can visit a local farm and see how they raise and treat the product, it's always an advantage. I like to use a rancher in mid-state, Slagel Family Farms for my beef. Mick Klug Farms is also the best fruit farm that I've seen. I also use a beautiful artisan ham from a producer in Iowa called La Quercia. We smoke our pork belly in-house.

What elements are especially important to creating a positive, lasting impression for your guests?

At La Madia, pizza is central to everything we do—as well as wine—but we have handmade pastas, desserts, and a full bar. I like to build dishes that are simple, but layered with flavor—something unexpectedly good for how simple it looks. As much as I can, I like to keep ingredients to to their natural form.

The other element is giving guests things they can't get other places. I like to find small-batch wines from small vineyards that you can't find just anywhere. The wines we select are unique, Old-World, and very food-friendly.

La Madia offers periodic wine tastings, cooking classes, and chef's dinners. Why do you think this is important?

I want to create a culture around food. Depending on our menu development, we offer tastings, chef's tables, and cooking classes. It's all rooted in things that people can't get other places. We're inspired by ingredients and innovation, and we like to keep things intimate and personal.

When you yourself dine at La Madia, what do you order?

I would select one of our wines of the week—a special selection of $6 wines by the glass, which you typically can't find anywhere else. I'd start with the Spinach and Taleggio Fondue, and then I'd have one of our chopped Italian salads—bitter Italian greens, toasted walnuts, Gorgonzola, and pears with balsamic vinaigrette. Then I'd definitely follow-up with a pizza. I believe that the composition of our pizzas are awesome. I'd probably want the Housemade Lamb Sausage pizza, which has mint salsa verde, Fresno chiles, and Caciocavallo cheese. Then I might go to the Pan-Roasted Steak Florentine, or a homemade pasta. And to finish, a Blood Orange Ice in Prosecco from our Sweets menu.