Today we continue our profile of Jose Piaggio. If you missed the first part, read it here.
Also worthy of note: Today, June 23rd, is Chef Jose Piaggio birthday! He shares his birth date with his mother, Yuqueri, who was also born on June 23rd.
Stay tuned tomorrow where he'll share a special recipe: one of the first dishes that he cooked with his mother.
What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Good, healthy and tasty food in the public school system.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Less big fast food chains and more independent ethnic food restaurants succeeding.
Doña Petrona C. de Gandulfo. She inspired the last three generations in my family.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
Grilling — Southern Brazilian and Argentine style, and everything in between.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Raw sea urchin in Bali. My soon-to-be-wife freaked, said I had weird eating habits. Twelve years later, she's still saying it.
You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Eggs, cheese and anything that is available.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Fresh coconut water, whenever I find it.
Weirdest customer request:
A customer had just come back from Argentina and ordered a side of dulce de leche with her dinner. She ate it with her entree.
Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Taiko and Sam Woo in Irvine.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Every failure carries the seed to great success.
What would the last meal on Earth be?
A wood-fire roasted leg of lamb and a glass of Cobos 2004 Malbec from Paul Hobbs.
Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
My dad, for taking the time to teach me by example that hard work, honesty and consistency pay off; and my wife Rosane, for being on my side unconditionally.
What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
Moroccan cuisine, because I love lamb and couscous. I would love to someday travel to North Africa.
What's your background, culinary or otherwise?
I grew up in Argentina in the food business. My family owned a meat processing company where I worked since I was a teen. I started at the very bottom, unloading trucks, which taught me respect for every job in the company. Then I learned from the best about cuts of meat, how to select meat, how to cut meat, etc.., and worked my way up to a sales position. My father used to take me to his sales calls, and to this day I remember him taking me to see a major client, parking the car, and then telling me “kid, you go negotiate the sale.” In those moments you learn to swim or you sink!
The pleasures of the table were instilled in me by my family, especially my mother, who was always organizing parties and my by grandfather, who I still think of as the most refined and elegant man I've ever known.
My interest in cooking was nurtured by my uncle Ñero who had a famous restaurant in Santa Fe for many years. His restaurant was my hangout as a kid. Instead of playing soccer or whatever kids did at that age, I wanted to be around food, to learn to cook, to serve. I loved everything about that environment.
When I was 23 I went to Praia do Forte in Bahia for a vacation and ended up staying for 12 years. There I opened a bed and breakfast and my own restaurant, and I started incorporating some of the exotic flavors around me into my Argentine cuisine.
In 1996 I came to the U.S. to meet my destiny.
Do you ever see yourself opening a regular brick-and-mortar restaurant again?
Been there, done that.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of cooking and doing business in a food truck?
I get to take food and service where it's needed and I have the opportunity to see different people and live a different scenario every day.
In a truck you have to adapt to the limited space and tools available inside, and you also have to work with small amounts of food. It requires much more labor to buy food on a daily basis, and then creativity to be able to make food specials daily using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Everything is more intense in a truck than a restaurant. Since everything I serve is prepared from scratch in the truck, I and my crew have to be adept at organizing and prepping during the downtimes, and ready to execute at least an order a minute during the daily rush, at special events, or private functions.
What do you hope for your business in 5 years? In 10?
I want to see gradual, solid growth. At each milestone that I'm projecting, I want to rise to the challenges that come my way and remain true to my vision. It's the wise way to brand your product.