Chef Roberto Paciullo opens Zero Otto Nove Manhattan

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Chef Paciullo is a reputable New York (but to be specific, Bronx) transplant from Solerno, Italy who has been feeding New York fresh, quality Italian food for over 15 years. Widely acclaimed for his Arthur Avenue havens, Roberto’s and Zero Otto Nove, he now graciously offers the best of both worlds (Roberto’s and Zero Otto Nove), to Manhattanites in the form of Zero Otto Nove Manhattan. Though opening up in Manhattan is a dream come true, Chef Paciullo also shares the sentiment: there’s no place like the Bronx. Now, fortunate for travel-phobic Manhattanittes, the Bronx just moved a lot closer.

I hear that you learned how to cook from your father. How has your upbringing influenced your personal cooking style?

When I left Italy I was 17 years old, I was young. My father inspired me by cooking a lot. The difference between my mother and my father? I can say my father – I can’t say he was a better cook- he was a more “finished” cook. My mother used to make soup and she used to leave a big piece of onion, a big piece of parsley, and so when you used to eat the soup [those ingredients] would get stuck. My father was more refined. We were eleven kids, we were very poor. When he used to make a simple linguini with garlic and oil, he had to use imagination. He used to make something and it would taste different. You know, “peasant” food? With a little touch he would make it taste like something else, like it was rich, it was different. I’ve always loved food. We were so poor, I used to imagine unbelievable food. My father inspired me as a little kid to always have an imagination ‘big on food.’

Have you had any formal culinary training?

No, not really. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I learned in Italy. I worked in a pasta store, I worked in a butcher shop. Culinary school? I never did. My dishes are my inspiration since I was a little kid. I teach the people in the kitchen working with me to do everything. I like to teach a guy who does not know anything about food because he will [cook] only the way I say [to cook]. He doesn’t have his own ideas. In my restaurant everything is done exactly the way I want it.

Are all your ingredients imported from Italy?

Not really. Most of what we bring is from the Bronx. What’s imported from Italy? The prociutto, branzino. We have great ingredients in this country. I always say it is easy to be a chef in Italy because in Italy everything is fresh. They pick from the garden and then they cook it right there. In America you have to really know how to shop to make food that is good, that is really fresh. My job is to shop. I shop on Arthur Avenue every day for all three restaurants.

I know you’re from Solerno, but when you think of home, is “home” the Bronx or Solerno?

I’m from Solerno, but home is the Bronx.

I’ve read that your restaurants have served food to some very well-known celebrities. Do you have an opinion about your celebrity clientele?

We have served many celebrities [including] Marisa Tomei, Larry Fishburn, and Hillary Clinton. Every other day is somebody. I really think [the draw] was the location in the Bronx. For celebrities, coming to the Bronx is something different. The Bronx grew because of immigration – Italians, Jews, Germans. A lot of celebrities are from the Bronx. I think the Bronx is a catch for a lot of people. It’s nice to go back to the Bronx.

It’s nice the [celebrities] come and recognize my restaurants, but there are people who have come for the last 15 years who come two or three times a week. That means a lot more to me than a celebrity who comes once a year or who never comes back. [Besides], we treat regular customers like celebrities. I think celebrities are just like regular people.

What brought you to decide to open Zero Otto Nove Manhattan at this time?

I was looking to open up a restaurant in Manhattan for a long time. Maybe 10 years I was looking for the right location. Why? I feel that Manhattan is the center of the world. Why now? I’ve been looking to find the right location, and this was the right location. To me, [Manhattan] means a lot. To start Zero Otto Nove in Manhattan and succeed, and bring a true Italian restaurant into Manhattan with reasonable prices, to me it is an accomplishment.

How will your signature ambience be reflected in the Flatiron location?

Zero Otto Nove Manhattan is a combination of Roberto and Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx. I took the best from both and brought them to Manhattan. All three restaurants are different, but the quality of the food and service is exactly the same. In all of the restaurants we use fresh olive oil, we don’t use heavy cream or butter. We don’t fry anything. The way I like to eat is the way I cook. I won’t cook anything that I wouldn’t like to eat myself. I’m a fanatic about food. I don’t like to mix olive oil and butter. I don’t like to put heavy cream in the food. I don’t like the extra calories. I’m really careful. What I cook in all three restaurants is what I’d cook for my family.

How has restauranting changed for you since you first opened Roberto’s fifteen years ago?

I don’t think restaurants change. I think people change. People eat better, they don’t eat the heavy sauce that you have to cook for four hours, fat, overcooked stew or meat. People like to eat better, lighter. For the last 15 years my food has always been the same. It is true Italian food from southern Italy. For example, I think Italian food should take no more than 15 minutes to prepare. I never changed the way the food is cooked from 20 years ago. [Instead], people understand food now much better than they did 20 years ago. Italian food is not what it used to be to Americans.

What five ingredients in your kitchen could you never be without?

The simple things. Virgin olive oil, fresh vegetables, garlic (fresh). Also, fish or meat. You don’t want to overbuy fish or meat to keep in the refrigerator. You buy every other day. Fresh food. Everything fresh. Dessert? You don’t have to go nuts, just two or three, but make them fresh every day. This is also for the house. When you go shopping, don’t buy a lot of food. I also suggest for everybody a good glass of wine every day. Just cook 10 minutes before, not the day before. Italian food is simple.

Have you thought of putting together a cook book?

I make recipes every day. Some people ask how I can come up with so many things. My mind is like a musician’s mind. All day he thinks of music. I think of food. I don’t write down recipes, just off the top of my head. I’ll write a cookbook someday when I slow down. For now, I’m always on the run.

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