We were tempted to headline this "Chris Macchia to Open Piccolo Sogno Trio in 2016." It would make sense given the tight set of relationships between three restaurants and three chefs here— as Eater reported, Macchia is leaving Coco Pazzo to take over The Florentine, which has a vacancy because Todd Stein is leaving to launch Piccolo Sogno Due for Tony Priolo, who before Piccolo Sogno was... Macchia's boss at Coco Pazzo. (Downloadable chart PDF coming soon.) Talking to Macchia, it seems pretty clear why Coco Pazzo was a good training ground for The Florentine, and if he's excited about taking a more contemporary approach to Italian flavors and both local and imported ingredients at The Florentine, he leaves with good words for his experiences at the more traditional Coco Pazzo. We spoke with Macchia (who we first met at this event) about why he's moving from one Italian restaurant to another and what he has in mind for The Florentine.
What's the difference between Coco Pazzo and The Florentine for you?
For one thing, it's in a hotel [the J.W. Marriott]. I've worked in hotels before and I'm kind of excited to do breakfast again. A simple European breakfast— maybe things like a frittata with asparagus when it's in season, or a breakfast pizza or things like that.
But it's also a different kind of restaurant. I love Coco Pazzo and respect everyone here, but it's been around for twenty years, people have expectations of traditional Italian food. Stylistically The Florentine is so different, it has a very contemporary approach. I'm excited to use more local ingredients with Italian techniques. Like you might do very traditional agnolotti but fill them with fresh corn when it's in season. Things like that that you'd never see in Italy that are more seasonal and less classical Italian, that we wouldn't do at Coco Pazzo.
Also, I want to expand the amount of Italian ingredients that The Florentine is using. Every year we go to Italy, some of the staff here, and we always fly into Rome or Milan and travel in that region, staying with wine industry contacts over there. And we came back with cheese from one guy, we went truffle hunting in Alba with another guy. We saw burrata being made a few years ago, and came back trying to source it back before it was really being used very much in Chicago. We've gotten ideas for types of seafood to start using, like the baby sepia on the menu, and also for techniques they use, like cooking whole fish, which Todd does too. I'd like to bring in more things like that at The Florentine, whether it's an olive oil or a buffalo mozzarella or whatever.
So Todd's staying on as a consultant?
For a little bit, to ease the transition. I mean, it's a restaurant that's working right now, I think one of the reasons they brought me in is because I'll evolve the restaurant. I'm not going to clean house first thing, it's not a big shakeup. My job is to understand the restaurant and what people want, and to evolve it from there.
How do you want to evolve the menu?
Like I said, toward being more American driven, but with Italian techniques. It's a bit of a contradiction that I also say I want to bring in more Italian ingredients, but they can work together.
Compared to Coco Pazzo it's a matter of doing fewer dishes, but more detailed, a little more foodie driven. Like, at Coco Pazzo we have ten or fifteen pastas, at The Florentine we might only have five. But I think when you focus on fewer things, you can really do them well.
One thing I got from Coco Pazzo— I totally fell in love with the woodburning pizza oven. I want to do more Neapolitan pizzas.
Does The Florentine have a woodburning oven?
It has a stone oven, so it's a little different. I'll have to experiment to see how my dough works in that oven.
Basically it's a contemporary take on Italian food, but I hope that if an Italian person were to eat there, they'd say, this still has the soul of Italian food in America.