Interview with Taggia’s Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca
If you haven’t paid Taggia a visit in a while, put it on your list of places to get to because there’s a new face heading up the kitchen — Chef Massimo De Francesca. Appointed as the resort’s Executive Chef back in September, upon his arrival he completely redesigned the menu that now features array of modern Italian dishes with international inspirations. You’ll find plenty of fresh pasta dishes and fish entrees here, as well as a few inventive pizzas. The Toronto-born chef’s first job was a bus boy at a high volume restaurant at the age of 13. Though he was young, he immediately fell in love with the industry and hasn’t left it since. Chef Massimo lived and worked abroad for 10 years in Italy and the Grand Cayman Islands and has been with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants since 2008. Most recently, he comes from their NYC properties and finally landed here in Phoenix to take over at Taggia.
We had the chance to get to know him better and learn about his culinary experiences and what inspires him to create. Meet Chef Massimo De Francesca:
Amy Martin: Coming from Manhattan, have you noticed any major food trend differences here in Scottsdale versus New York? Was it difficult to make the transition?
Chef Massimo: Yes. NYC is definitely one of the cities of the world that is the front runner in the food scene. In no specific order there are a few trends that I’ve seen and taken to use on my own between the two cities: pizza is a never-ending and consistently evolving trend in New York, nose-to-tail or fin-to-tail cooking, edible “dirt” and “soils” as well as homemade salumi and charcuterie. The mixoIogy scene is also really taking off in Manhattan, becoming extremely competitive throughout the five boroughs. Phoenix is certainly getting there in its own right now, too.
Fortunately as a chef, you can learn trends to take and use in your own way, wherever you are. The most difficult part of the transition, perhaps, has been missing my favorite specialty markets. I really enjoyed having an array of niche stores, such as tea shoppes or Italian grocers, rather than the ‘one stop shops’ that are more common out here.
I have, however, really enjoyed learning about the clientele and demands of the Phoenix area. There is definitely a food scene that exists here and I hope to introduce some experiences I’ve garnered in New York and my other travels to our local community.
Amy: Where did you look for inspiration as you created new dishes for the menu?
Chef Massimo: I love to travel and draw from all the places around the world I have visited and combining those flavors with local product – sourcing from local farms and purveyors is very important to me and all Kimpton chefs.
Amy: Is there any one dish you are most proud of?
Chef Massimo: Not yet, not until I retire! Just kidding. I am especially proud of most of the items I create, actually. I feel as though I am constantly trying to design and experiment to achieve better, more interesting creations. That methodology makes it pretty tough to pick just one.
Amy: Of all your travels and restaurant experiences, is there a memory, experience, or valuable lesson that you learned along the way that helped shaped you into the chef you have become?
Chef Massimo: All of my apprenticeships have been great and truly life changing in their own ways. Working under JP Challet in Toronto, has been a lifelong experience and I continue to learn from him all the time. In Italy, working under a Michelin starred chef, Vincenzo Camerucci was huge. Just to observe him taking such care and precision in his creations was an amazing experience. In 2008, I staged at Clio, in Boston, with world renowned chef Ken Oringer. I was always a big fan of his, and when I was given the opportunity I jumped at it and I still remember how great it was. He is a rock star. I’ve been very lucky to learn from great teachers and they’ve all shaped me into the chef and person that I am.
Amy: Have you had a chance to experience other restaurants in the area yet? Any major standouts?
Chef Massimo: Brat Haus, FnB and Barrio Queen so far are some faves.
Amy: If you could have unlimited supply of any ingredient, always fresh and in season, which would it be?
Chef Massimo: Fresh herbs of all types and their flowers. And all sorts of wild mushrooms.
Amy: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
Chef Massimo: Probably wondering why I wasn’t a chef! Cooking has always been an interest of mine because of the fact it is every industry under one roof. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Amy: Which season’s flavors do you get most excited to create with?
Chef Massimo: Fall is my favorite. It is the end and most mature peak of summer and the beginning of the winter season. How can you go wrong?!
Amy: Favorite comfort food?
Chef Massimo: Good pizza and peanut butter/nutella sandwiches. In that order.
Amy: If you could orchestrate your own perfect food day, where and what would you eat and who would be with you?
Chef Massimo: The best experiences often are not planned so I’d start off foraging and fishing during the morning, in the Brazilian Amazon. I’d then cook what I find and eat with Alex Atala, an amazing Brazilian chef. I don’t know exactly what the food would be, but I bet it’d be great.
Experience Chef Massimo’s menu for yourself at Taggia at the FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, open daily. Learn more at taggiascottsdale.com.