Interview with Executive Chef Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Fattoria
Of all the restaurants in the FOX brand, I’d have to say that NoRTH Arcadia rises to the top for me. Whether I’m in for a casual brunch or celebrating a special occasion over dinner, my meals here have always superb and I find myself craving their dishes often. I have a known weakness for the Bread & Cheese appetizer that is simple, yet extraordinary all at the same time… and don’t get me started on their OMG-worthy Ricotta Gnocchi with braised short ribs. No matter how much I fill up between appetizers and entrees (and believe me, I order a ton of food here), there’s always enough room for dessert at NoRTH. If you’ve never been in, try the Affogato with warm Nutella cake and vanilla gelato or the Bombolini (delectable Italian doughnuts with Meyer lemon curd and vanilla mascarpone).
I had a chance to learn more about the chef heading up the kitchen at NoRTH in a recent interview (you may know him from his run at Noca). Meet Chef Chris Curtiss, Brand Chef at North Fattoria Italiana:
Amy Martin:I love that you worked selling produce for a family farm at your local farmer’s market at 14 – did you begin experimenting with seasonal flavors and produce because of this job?
Chef Chris Curtiss: Yes absolutely, that was what ignited my interest in food and put me on this path. Before I worked at the farmer’s market, my mom would purchase food at the grocery store, but there was no real connection as to where the items actually came from. I started to acknowledge how special local ingredients are and felt blessed to know the importance of eating foods that can be picked and cooked in a relatively short time frame.
Amy: Which season’s flavors were you most excited to create with?
Chef Chris: Great attributes come from each season. In the fall and winter, like on days like today, root vegetables are delicious and versatile. Celery and parsnips create great flavor. I love roasting them or turning them into beautiful soups. The plethora of wild mushrooms available this time of year are always fun too.
Amy: Growing up, did your family do a lot of from-scratch cooking? Did you learn any valuable lessons or techniques from your family?
Chef Chris: My mom would always cook dinner for the family. We would sit down together and she continued that structure even after my parent’s divorced. Using a meal as a way to catch up and reunite is a really special thing and I felt lucky for having that childhood experience.
Amy: What keeps you motivated in the kitchen today?
Chef Chris:I just want to get better each time. There’s so much more to learn. I’m constantly pushing myself and my team to be creative and craft the best possible experience for each guest that comes into the restaurant.
Amy: I’m a huge fan of NoRTH in Arcadia and it’s become one of my favorite Valley restaurants. The bread and cheese app is to die for and I could make a meal of that alone. The Ricotta Gnocchi with short ribs is another favorite – can you tell us a bit about how you make it?
Chef Chris: The bread and cheese appetizer is a rustic and simple way to use bread and cheeses. It’s easy for the at home cook to create because you can mix soft and hard cheeses with cream in a casserole dish and warm it in the oven. The cream will help stabilize it as it melts.
Our ricotta gnocchi is labor intensive, but so worth it. What’s cool about our gnocchi is that we use ricotta cheese instead of potato to make it less gummy in texture. The short ribs take 14 hours from start to finish, so most at-home cooks don’t have the patience for it but what I would recommend is substituting ricotta cheese for potato in the gnocchi, and adding braised meat from a crock pot.
Amy: Which dishes from the menu are your personal favorites?
Chef Chris: That’s tough. I could eat the Tagliatelle Bolognese every day. It’s a dish steeped in tradition from the Piedmont region of Italy. And any of the pizzas — I’m a big fan of them. I never experimented with pizza dough prior to joining North and now I appreciate the characteristics of a great ball of dough. By the end of the day you have this flavorful pizza creation to share, and you ultimately know that a lot of love went into every slice.
Amy: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing right now?
Chef Chris: In my heart I feel that I would still be in the food industry. Like a farmer or butcher. Another job I had growing up was working for a family butcher shop in the Bay Area, which I found fascinating.
Amy: Music… what are you listening to most right now?
Chef Chris: My music taste is diverse. I just went on a huge road trip and listened to Trampled By Turtles, which is a bluegrass band, and Ray LaMontagne. I also like reggae and I’ll hit up older punk rock like Bon Iver when I’m feeling feisty.
Amy: 5 ingredients that you always have on hand at home?
Chef Chris: A really good olive oil, a really nice vinegar like a balsamic or sherry, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and eggs.
Amy: Favorite guilty-pleasure snack?
Chef Chris: Potato chips.
Amy: If you could orchestrate your own perfect food day, where and what would you eat and who would be with you?
Chef Chris: I would definitely be in San Francisco with my wife. We would get breakfast at the Pork Shop, have Vietnamese food for lunch, and for dinner we’d go to Delfina.
Amy: Can you offer a piece of advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?
Chef Chris: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in the kitchen and use them as opportunities to learn instead.
Visit NoRTH in Arcadia for brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner. Learn more at foxrc.com.