By CHRISTINA HARPER
It’s difficult not to salivate when Gianni Mottola talks about food and cooking. The delicious dishes this chef conjures up in conversation are the essence of what appears on the menu of his Everett restaurant, Gianni’s Ristorante Italiano.
At 43, Mottola celebrates life’s many gifts: two children, 16 years of marriage, a kidney given to him five years ago by a brother, and 17 years as owner of the restaurant he loves.
Mottola was born in Seattle and at age 2 moved to Naples, Italy, where his parents had lived. Summers, Mottola helped out at Vince’s, his fathers south Seattle Italian restaurant, and would return to Italy for school. When he was 15, Mottola moved back to the United States.
In junior high school, Mottola remembers, he was at a friend’s house for a meat-and-potatoes dinner. He gave his friend a nudge.
"Where’s the pasta?"
There was none. He ran home for some.
"Pasta to us is like rice to an Asian," Mottola said.
Eventually Mottola wanted to break away from Vince’s and open his own restaurant in Snohomish County.
"Dad would only finance a project if it was out of town," Mottola said with a smile.
He and his staff serve Italian flare with the food while keeping tradition alive.
American meals have three or four items on one plate and it can be a rush to finish before food gets cold, Mottola said. The many courses eaten at an Italian table, including soup, fish and pasta, meant his mother was always busy.
"In Italy, Mom never sat down," he said.
Italian food is not an exact science, Mottola said. He doesn’t use measuring tools and prefers to cook by feeling what’s happening with the food. For him it’s about the feel, passion and creative emotion, he said.
"Knowing what you love, believing it works and having the determination to stand behind your product" is what Mottola is enthusiastic about.
Taste, quality and temperature are the three most important issues of food, he said.
He is glad he is a good chef but believes it is important to be a good business person.
"Business first, artistry second," he said.
The ever-busy Mottola coaches baseball, fishes and is beginning to bottle his own gorgonzola dressing. Had he not been a chef, he might have gone into the music business.
"I’m a closet entertainer, singer songwriter," he said.
The sense of family and of camaraderie with staff is very important to Mottola as are his customers. Longtime diners have their names in some of the restaurant booths and Mottola could recently be found taking food to a patron who was ill and unable to make it to the restaurant.
"I get to make great friends," Mottola said.
Mottola draws great satisfaction from creating good food, serving everything from pizza to veal, in a restaurant with a great atmosphere. He also gets a thrill from seeing empty plates with tongue tracks on them.
"I’m just an Italian chef," Mottola said, laughing. "Don’t ask me to do anything else."
Gianni MottolA’s recipe for success
His restaurant: Gianni’s Ristorante Italiano, 5030 Evergreen Way, Everett. 425-252-2435.
Favorite food: Pollo Giovanni. Tender, succulent chicken breasts, marinated artichoke hearts and julienne onions sautéed and finished in a luscious white wine butter cream sauce.
Favorite kitchen tool: Mottola has a favorite fork, but says that his most important tool is located between his ears.
Favorite cookbook: "The one I’m formulating in my head," Mottola said.
Favorite chef: His mother and father, and other Italian relatives.
Chef’s tip: A gas stove is recommended for Italian cooking, Mottola said. However, if you have an electric stove, have two burners on, one on low, one on high. For proper sauce reduction, you must alternate between high and low.
Penne alla Matriciana
1tablespoon olive oil
1/4cup diced onions
1teaspoon chopped garlic
1tablespoon red hot chili flakes
1/2cup crushed tomato puree
8ounces cooked penne pasta
3-4slices pancetta Italian bacon
Salt and pepper
Over medium heat, and in a large skillet, saute onions in olive oil. Cook until the onions become glazed and slightly burnt. This is crucial for the overall effect required for the dish.
Add garlic, red chili and pancetta. Continue to simmer, slightly browning bacon.
Add crushed tomatoes and water, simmer on medium-high heat for 30 seconds.
Add the pre-cooked penne pasta, stir and reduce for upward of two minutes, or until desired consistency.
Salt and pepper to taste.