Accomplished and wise are two words that best describe John Coletta, Executive Chef and Co-Founder of Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar in Chicago. Part of the Gibson’s Restaurant Group, which also includes heavy hitters like Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse and Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, Quartino’s features the specialties of Italian cuisine created by Chef Coletta.
Creating an experience that fully encompasses flavor right along with intimate celebration, Chef Coletta not only practices the artisan tradition of preparing Italian meals for his customers at Quartino Ristorante, he carries the mindset of discovering food when he retreats to his home kitchen.
You can feel Chef Coletta’s mantra of “prepare Italian food, with Italian passion” throughout our interview as PB Kitchen Design finds out – What’s Cookin’ in Chef Coletta’s Kitchen.
Tell us about your home kitchen. Is it recently remodeled? Do you have a small kitchen space or a large space?
Our home kitchen is equipped with a 48-inch Wolf range, a large island with a honed granite top containing an under counter wine storage refrigerator, a pull out under counter garbage bin and storage cabinets, honed granite and quartersawn maple wood counter tops, a stainless steel faced refrigerator, and an electric dishwasher. The ceiling is eleven feet with glass bay windows looking out onto our simple backyard filled with flowers and garden fresh herbs. Although the kitchen has been remodeled 10 years ago, it is highly functional and efficient along with being approachable.
Compared to the kitchen where you work, how do you make your home kitchen work?
In my opinion, our home kitchen was appointed to fit a relaxing and casual lifestyle without any need for á la carte restaurant service. Prepared foods are placed onto small serving platters, arranged onto the honed granite island top and easily shared. Obviously, this family style approach is not unusual or unique, it simply allows our family to experience foods in a casual and relaxed environment while discussing past, present, and upcoming events.
If you were on a desert island, what 3 kitchen tools would you bring with you?
#1 – An enamel pot with a lid
Limited amounts of fats are needed to cook foods in enamel cookware. Foods can be cooked quickly or covered with a lid and allowed to simmer slowly.
#2 – An olive wooden spoon
Wooden spoons do not scratch or damage enamel cookware. Olive wood spoons in particular are long lasting and require very little attention.
#3 – A solid 1-piece stainless steel knife
Realizing a stainless steel knife holds its edge longer, this is a significant advantage. A steel knife would support an extended honed knife edge, however, I only have three choices.
What impresses you about residential kitchen design today?
Many residential kitchen designs are aesthetically pleasing. They are generally spacious, lots of lighting and well-appointed with the latest and greatest kitchen gadgets. I am very pleased when a kitchen contains the proper cookware. Heavy bottom stainless steel, copper, cast iron or enamel make excellent pots. The proper selection of cookware directly impacts the cooking achievements. I am also very excited when the counter tops are made from a solid, one-piece material such as granite, solid oak, maple or olive wood. The preparation of pastry, dough or any flour product realizes its fullest potential when these mediums are utilized.
When you cook, are you a messy cook? A social cook? Do you let your significant other help with the cooking or ban him/her from the kitchen?
I enjoy cooking alone in our home kitchen. I do not ban my wife from cooking with me, she often sets the table, arranges flowers or decorative centerpieces, selects the appropriate glassware and cutlery. I find cooking at home to be extremely relaxing and educational. I often will prepare foods for my family and solicit their opinions and thoughts. Cooking at home is a great opportunity for me to explore and prepare foods in a quick and efficient manner, stimulating and exciting the palates of my wife and two children.
I do not approach food as a necessary fuel for our bodies, rather an experience in potential food discoveries. Cooking is infinite and should reflect our uncompromising quest to experience foods from countless perspectives and catalog them accordingly.
If you were to design your dream kitchen, what features would be the most important to you?
- A fully functional kitchen which considers every aspect of food procurement, storage, preparation, utensil and cookware storage, cooking, washing and refuge disposal.
- Sunlight, garden views, high and unobstructed ceilings with plenty of bright lighting.
- A heavy-duty stove with a variety of options, such as a griddle or grill, two ovens and four to six cook tops.
What is your favorite dish to make?
I enjoy preparing vegetables in all forms. The challenge of cooking vegetables in a manner which reveals their inborn natural flavors requires a significant amount of understanding and skill. An example would be of fresh peas cooked in the dead of summer, containing an excessive amount of starch as opposed to peas cooked in early spring. The spring peas are refreshing and full of flavor. The summer peas are heavy and lack flavor. Although the peas appear to be identical, they are very different and require technical attention. The challenge is to prepare the summer peas in a manner which supports a refreshing and flavorful food experience.
Mastered cooking techniques and skills, in-depth farming knowledge, and proper cookware must be in harmony in order to achieve this experience.
To get up close and personal with Chef Coletta’s menu, visit Quartino Ristorante in Chicago. For more information about Gibsons Restaurant Group in Naperville, Oak Brook, and other Chicagoland locations, visit their Group page.