Photo by Vanessa Rogers
Eugenio “Mikey” Tinajero, the new executive chef at Pazzo! Cucina Italiana on Fifth Avenue South, is an American success story. He came to Naples from Mexico at 13. Two years later, while in high school, he began washing dishes in a pizza shop. After starting at Pazzo! in 2008, Tinajero worked his way up from line cook to sous chef, and finally reached the top.
“We’re one big family at Pazzo,” he explains. “I had to leave family behind in Mexico. When I started working here, it felt like home.” As this month marks Pazzo!’s twentieth anniversary, we speak to the restaurant’s top chef about the milestone, his cooking style, and a few of his favorite things.
Mexican versus Italian cooking: The ingredients are different, but many techniques are similar, particularly roasting and braising.
Best meal to cook at home: Breakfast. It’s the part of the day when we’re all together. My son is just over a year old, and he loves omelets and scrambled eggs.
Linguini and little neck clams with roasted cherry tomatoes.
Person I’d most like to cook for: Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue. He’s an expert in the industry and knows a great deal about food, so it would be a real challenge.
Favorite ingredient: Roasted butternut squash—if done well, it can be simple but perfect. We make ravioli with it, bathe the pasta in a sauce of prosciutto, sun-dried tomato, and onions, and top that with a biscotti walnut crumble.
Roasted beets served with house Sorrento citrus “jam,” panna fresca, candied walnuts, and micro arugula.
Most unusual item in his home fridge: Tamales similar to what my mom makes in Mexico. The corn is cooked in ashes from a charcoal fire, then wrapped in bamboo and steamed.
Berkshire bone-in pork chop with rosemary, lemon, and cherry peppers with crispy potatoes and sauteed spinach in a Marsala wine demi-glace
Ultimate dinner: One of my own dishes, a lamb shank with pistachio pesto, lamb demi-glace, and risotto. We run it as a special during the season. It’s really flavorful, and something I take a lot of pride in.
Essence of cooking style: We make everything from scratch, and our dishes have many layers of flavor. For example, we braise beef in a red wine tomato sauce for six hours, until it becomes a reduction with a deep and rich meat flavor. We use that sauce in a number of dishes, such as our short-rib meatballs and chicken parmigiana.
On Pazzo! turning 20: Most employees are long-term. We have people who have been there from the beginning. It was an honor to be chosen as chef on the restaurant’s twentieth anniversary, and I hope it goes another 20 years.