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Chef speak
Brian Zarletti - Owner/Chef Zarletti's 

Photos by Dan Bishop

October 2013

Brian Zarletti grew up in a food-centric, Italian family in Kenosha. So naturally he studied marketing at Northwestern University. He started working at Main Street Bistro in Racine, and that experience drew him back to the kitchen. In 2002, he opened a small Italian cafť in South Milwaukee, and in 2004 Zarlettiís debuted in downtown Milwaukee. Zarletti hasnít looked back, opening Rustico Pizzeria and the soon-to-be-opened Salotto Zarletti in Mequon.|

Tell me a little bit about your culinary background and your culinary philosophy.

"I didnít go to culinary school or do an apprenticeship program. I learned to cook in my grandmotherís kitchen and in my motherís kitchen and through experimentation on my own. I am an avid reader, and I have spent some time cooking in kitchens in Europe. Traveling to Italy has accounted for the biggest evolution in my cooking, and it tempers everything we do here at Zarletti and influences our other restaurants as well.

"I try to stay as true to authentic, regional Italian cuisine. I travel every year to taste and explore and bring back a few recipes from regions where I have traveled. I visited some friends in Rome a couple of years ago, and we were in the old part of Rome at this restaurant. They said if you want to make a real carbonara, come in back. I went in back, and the chef/owner taught me how to make it right there. I had made pasta carbonara before, but it wasnít the right way. Once I learned to make it, itís been a staple ever since."

What makes a carbonara authentic?

"Some people put cream in carbonara, but that should never be in that dish. Itís the simplest of Italian cooking but the result is so great. Itís just using quality ingredients and preparing them in the right way. For our carbonara, we sautť our pancetta with a tiny bit of onion, mix it in a little bit of the pasta and toss it with the egg yolks and freshly grated cheese. You should taste the texture of the pancetta, a little bit of the essence of the sweet onion, the great creaminess from the egg yolk and sharp, grated cheese."

What are some of your favorite pizza toppings?

"My favorite pizza is probably a very simple, margarita with some anchovies or tuna. I love fish on my pizza."

What do you make at home?

"I make pasta and risotto all the time, and Iím certainly a man who loves to grill. From spring to fall, we fire up our charcoal grill daily, and we cook everything from whole chickens to pizza on that grill. Mostly, though, itís very simple, Italian inspired food ó that comfort food I grew up on."

Whatís always in your pantry? What are the kitchen tools you canít live without?

"Always in my pantry are garlic, onions and olive oil, and for sure, some truffle paste or truffle-scented olive oil, some nice cans of San Marzano tomatoes. With those ingredients, you can make any number of things. For fun, when I havenít gone shopping, I just comb my cupboards and prepare a feast for the whole family.

"My chefís knives, my six-burner commercial range that I have in my kitchen at home, and my charcoal grill are the three things I wouldnít want to live without. I also have a cutting board that my father made for me before he passed away. He made them from some old stair treads ó they were birdís-eye maple, and he planed it all down and made some nice cutting boards for the whole family."


This story ran in the October 2013 issue of: