Chef Spotlight: Interview with Mario Gentile

The Chef Invites You to Join His Upscale Pizza Party

Adoro Lei, means “I adore her” in Italian – and that’s exactly how you’ll feel about the Hudson Square neighborhood spot after your first bite. With a focus on elevated Italian fare, Chef Mario Gentile is winning over diners with his interpretations of classic favorites. The shared plates come creatively prepared – Prosecco Mussels, Adoro Sliders, and the Calzoni Bambinos – while the pizzas are named for famous and infamous Renaissance-era figures: Romeo (spicy sausage, peppers, onions), Pietro (cherry tomatoes, wild arugula, prosciutto), and Taddea (ricotta, mozzarella, whole egg), amongst others.

This is just the latest chapter of Chef Mario’s culinary saga, one that began as a busboy at his father’s Brooklyn restaurant Café Mille Luci at nine years old. The next stop was Italy with a Michelin Guide book to steer his offerings to renowned chefs. At each doorstep, his proposal was the same: he would work for free and learn as much as he could while accepting as payment only a place to stay at night. The tactic worked, for when he returned to New York, he further honed his skills at landmark spots Cipriani and The Rainbow Room.

Gentile is now at Adoro Lei throwing an upscale “pizza party.” As he showed us around the kitchen with not one, but two custom ovens (a special one just for deliveries, so as not to compromise the quality of his work), Chef Mario talked about creativity in the kitchen, keeping the menu fresh, and what he wants diners to know before coming in.

Your father owned a restaurant in Brooklyn. What is something that you learned from watching him over the years that you apply today?

Work ethic. Hands down. My father was an extremely, extremely hard worker and never took any shortcuts. That’s still what I think about. When you start taking shortcuts is when you see a difference in the quality.

You’ll never make a sauce on Monday and use it on Tuesday.

No. I’d rather run out of it in the restaurant. That’s when they order something else, you get something fresh every time.

You’ve been in Italy at three Michelin-starred restaurants; but the menu here, would you say it’s more like American- Italian?

It is modern Italian, I’d say.

Are there any dishes that you have brought with you from that very formal training?

No, all the dishes are our own creations that we make here. What I learned was mostly techniques over there. I could take those techniques and then make my own dishes and create that way.

Are you always sort of looking at trends and what kind of the new things are, or do you try and avoid that?

Maybe a little bit. I’ll go out to eat somewhere and I see something that I like, then I’ll try to think on how we can use it in our way. I’m not heavily reading into what the new hot item is.

The use of honey, which I don’t think I would have expected in some of the dishes. Incredible.

Yeah. It pairs so well with everything.

That was something I wouldn’t have necessarily expected at an Italian restaurant, and as soon as you eat it, it makes perfect sense.

We try to keep it always Italian, but with a little creativeness, but nothing so outside the box. We try to do Italian ingredients and just mix them up a little differently than what people are used to.

You’re introducing a full cast iron program.

Yes. Our next menu, we’re going to have a little section with all the dishes that I’ve made cast iron. We’re going to bake them all in the wood-burning oven. So, we have a lasagna, we’re going to make a vegetarian lasagna. We have an eggplant parmigiana made the old school way. So, we’ll start off with those three, and see how the reaction is.

And what’s the overall idea in terms of when the menu changes?

We change it probably about three times a year, just to see the feeling of everything. We do a couple of specials a night, nothing too crazy, but we’ll play with it and see which way to go.

It’s probably nice for you to not also fall into the, “This is our menu. We’re going to do it every night.”

Right. No, I won’t be able to do that.

The Boozy Bettina Pizza. Is it actually made with alcohol?

Yes. There’s grappa in there.

How is that prepared?

You have your typical vodka sauce, so we said, “Okay, instead of using vodka, let’s try to use something to make it more Italian,” which would be grappa.

What does it do for the taste as opposed to using the vodka?

It’s a different taste than vodka sauce. The grappa is made from grapes, as opposed to a grain for the vodka. So it’s a little bit of a different taste.

Sweeter?

A little bit than what you’d get from vodka.

If I were coming in with a group of friends for a casual weeknight dinner, how would you suggest we go about approaching the menu? Are we going shared plates?

Share everything. I love when people share.

You guys say it’s like an upscale pizza party. So, if you wanted to prepare people to come in for the fun, what are three things you want them to know before they come in?

Be ready to eat, drink, and listen to good music.