Massimo Puglielli started cooking at the age of 5 in his family home in Pescara, Italy. He likes to joke that he graduated from Nonna Francesa’s Culinary School of Abruzzo, otherwise known as his grandmother’s kitchen. After making a living in other careers, which included professional golfer and musician, as well as spending three decades as a private chef, he opened his first restaurant in Naples. Mino, which bears his childhood nickname, is a casual, friendly eatery specializing in pizza and trattoria dishes, such as freshly made pasta and fritto misto.
Italian versus Italian-American food: In Italy, the cooking is very simple. The ingredients are fresh and tend to be better than they are here. I want to taste every individual ingredient in a dish. When you overload ingredients, you lose the essence of each one.
On finding inspiration: I’m cooking the dishes I grew up with, recipes my aunt and grandmother taught me, but many people have inspired me. I’m continuing the tradition now, having my brother and two sons working with me in the restaurant. My goal is to maintain the food I grew up with 50 years ago.
Why Naples: I grew up in a beach town. One day about 20 years ago, I visited Naples, and it reminded me of Pescara. I walked to the edge of the water in Lowdermilk Park, dug in the sand, and found tellina [a species of bivalves]. I called my then-wife and told her I’d found the place we’d move to.
If he could eat only one meal: There’s a dish from the Abruzzo called spaghetti alla chitarra. The pasta is literally cut on guitar strings. I’d have it in a simple red sauce with authentic scampi, the small, hard-shelled crustaceans native to my region.
Whom he’d most like to cook for: Someone who has never tried my food. I’ve cooked for many famous people, but I treat everyone identically, no matter who they are.
The art of the pizza: The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Mino is our Italian-built, rotating pizza oven. My personal preference is wood, which I use at home, but we seat 150 guests at the restaurant and have to use gas to keep up with the demand. The pizza bakes at 800 degrees, and is completely cooked in one rotation of around 90 seconds.
Words to live by: Whatever you do, do it with passion and love. That way, it doesn’t seem like work.