Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interview Andy DiPietro, executive chef at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. I was greeted very warmly by this friendly, gregarious and charming man who is not only a master in the kitchen with a passion for cooking, but also a man with a great sense of humour who just loves to share his stories.
Tell me a bit about your background and why you became a chef?
I was 10 or 11 and was always interested in being in the kitchen with my mother. When I was 13, my father asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “maybe cooking”. That’s when I started making pizzas at Trevi’s Pizza in Stoney Creek. My first job.
What’s your favourite thing about being a chef?
Making people happy. It’s all about the food. Bringing people in, getting them together and making them happy.
If you could give people 3 cooking tips, what would they be?
What makes a great chef…Salt! Know how to use salt. That’s one of the biggest things. Use great ingredients and keep it simple. Make the food speak for itself.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
I like to play with a lot of ingredients. But my favourite thing to work with has to be pasta. Pasta of any kind. With a simple tomato sauce. But it’s got to be good pasta.
What would you say is one of the most challenging ingredients to work with?
Any ingredient can be challenging. It’s how you find your way to work with them and put them together.
When it’s your day off, and you go out to eat, where do you like to go?
Korean. It’s my favourite. I love the balance of flavours. It’s not over the top. It’s very simple with the saltiness and sweetness and the spice. It’s unbelievable! It’s so fresh.
What city in the world would you say has the best food?
I love Montreal! It’s my favourite city. It has everything. It has that European feel.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do for a living?
I’d be a chartered accountant. I love numbers. I’m great with numbers but I don’t really use numbers when I cook. I free hand, except for when it comes to baking because it’s more of an exact science. But I always free-hand when I cook. Like when I make a sauce…a little pinch of this, a little pinch of that. I season at the end because you don’t know what the cooking process will do to that sauce.
Do you have an embarrassing cooking moment?
When I used to work at Pazzo Mato, my front of the house manager used to purposely stack the plates too high so I couldn’t reach them. It was more annoying than embarrassing. (laughingly) I ended up marrying that woman, my front of the house manager. Something good came from her pranks.
What excites you in the world of food these days?
The diversity. Farm to table, the fusion with Asian, Italian. The diversity of combining cultures and then the freshness and simplicity of farm to table. Chefs today are so unbelievably talented and cutting edge.
Do you have a cooking pet peeve?
A kitchen that is not clean. Everything needs to be completely sanitary. 100 per cent my biggest pet peeve.
What would you say is your favourite thing about being a chef in Niagara?
I think it’s all the different people that I get to meet from around the world. I love it! It’s about making that connection. Social media helps me keep those connections.
How do you stay relevant in the culinary world?
I eat out a lot. I try a lot of places to see what other people are doing. I train my palette that way. Instagram is fantastic because I can see trends. I use cookbooks but one of my favourite things is a magazine I subscribe to called Art Culinaire which truly keeps me up to date on everything from different foods, to plating techniques and trends.
How would you describe a day working in your kitchen?
Busy! Always busy! It’s like an organized chaos. That’s what we love. It’s that rush. When we’re doing a la carte for Ruth’s Chris, then doing Fallsview events, it’s that rush. My team is fantastic!
What are your guilty pleasures food-wise?
Where do I start? (laughingly) Chocolate! Snacks! I’m big on snacks. I love chips. Savoury and sweet, but I go in spurts. I’ll go from a chocolate binge to salty nuts. I just love snacks.
What would you request for your last supper ever?
It’s gotta be pizza. Any kind of pizza. Nice thin-crust. It would have to be pizza.