Hailing from Astoria, Queens, Executive Chef and restaurateur Ciro Verde, was lured into the culinary world at a very young age. Spending his summers in Portici, Naples, Italy as a young boy, his uncle guided him through the fine art and technique of cooking in a wood-burning oven. Mastering this art by the age of nineteen, Ciro decided to pursue his passion for culinary innovation in Manhattan. It wasn’t long after this decision that Ciro established a name and place for himself among some of the most recognized and well-respected chefs in New York City.
Ciro developed his skill set under the hand of some of the most influential culinary leaders of the late 80’s and early 90’s from Mezzaluna and Petaluma restaurants. However, it wasn’t until he started working with Pino Luongo at Le Madri that he finally made his mark. Ciro’s sense of creativity, knowledge and motivation to present a desirable cuisine was challenged by the introduction of Italian Robiola cheese. This introduction led to the birth of Ciro’s famous Focaccia Robiola Di Ciro which would soon change the face of your traditional pizza for the better.
Having developed his own unique style and flair, he opened Da Ciro Ristorante on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan in 1995. Being an artisan behind the wood-burning oven, Ciro combined the aesthetic traditions and “old world” cuisine of Italy to create a regional Italian menu. Ciro and his Focaccia Robiola Di Ciro gained considerable recognition by the Food Network and slowly him and his Focaccia Robiola Di Ciro rose from a staple to a must have.
After almost a twenty-one (21) year run in Manhattan with Da Ciro Ristorante and a four-year stint in Brooklyn with Da Ciro Trattoria, the pandemic found him reuniting former mentor and friend, Pino Luongo. Together they created a whole new, energetic and “Pazzo” (crazy in Italian) take on the pizzeria experience, Coco Pazzeria. They paired gourmet pizza with oysters and bubbles, and offer a curated menu of pastas, buzzetti, panozzi and focaccia. The outcome elevates the dining component of a pizzeria and offers a fun and energetic neighborhood experience.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Ciro Verde about his career and Coco Pazzeria.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
My earliest interest came from my uncle, Ciro Mazza, in the small town of Portici, Italy, right outside of Naples. Every summer from the time I was 12, my family went to Italy for 2 ½ months as soon as school was over. I would accompany my uncle to his restaurant every day and work alongside him. I started with prepping and without realizing it, I was learning the restaurant business from the ground up. My uncle saw something in me and took me under his wing, saying “you have it in your blood.”
Who were some of your career mentors?
My Uncle was my first and most important mentor, as he instilled in me a love of food, the fine art and technique of cooking in a wood-burning oven and pizza making. The first time he let me assist the Pizzaiola, he was teaching a young boy – who knew nothing other than he really liked making pizzas – a trade that would last a lifetime. Early in my career, I was fortunate to find work as a Piazzaiolo with chef Tom Repetti at Petaluma and Marco Fregonese at Mezzaluna. Then I met the renowned Pino Luongo, whom I consider my most influential career mentor. He was the last person I worked for before going out on my own in 1995 to open Da Ciro in Murray Hill and the one with whom I have reunited to launch our current venture, Coco Pazzeria.
What culinary styles have influenced your career?
Italian Napolitano Style cuisine. From a simple caprese mozzarella and tomato salad with basil and EVOO to a great Spaghetti alle Vongole in white wine sauce or with a touch of wonderful San Marzano tomatoes.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
I don’t consider myself as a chef. I tell people I am just a good cook. I am at my best in front of a wood-burning oven – not only for pizzas, but for many other dishes, such as casseroles with all types of fish meat and vegetable ingredients. I would have to say my signature dish it is the Focaccia Robiola da Ciro: thin focaccia bread filled with robiola cheese then topped with a drizzle of white truffle oil. It is the house specialty at Coco Pazzeria and has been a customer favorite since I first created it at Le Madri.
What is your favorite meal or meals?
My favorite meal to eat after a long day at work is a simple meal from my favorite diner. I start with one or two orders of shrimp cocktails followed up with a great grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with ham, fresh tomato and a side of coleslaw or French fries. When I am dining more formally, I love a great Lobster Fra Diavola tossed with linguini al dente.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Coco Pazzeria is the result of a collaboration with Pino Luongo and Alessandro Bandini to venture into pizza making and create an energetic, “Pazzo” (crazy in Italian) take on the pizzeria experience. We pair the rich flavors and crunchiness of wood-oven fired, thin-crust Pizza with the contrasting taste of minerality and texture of oysters, and complement the combo with the effervescence of bubbles. Pizza, Oysters and Bubbles! The menu also offers a curated selection of buzzetti, panozzi, pasta, salads and focaccia which elevates the dining component of the pizzeria experience. Coco Pazzeria is not a place where you come to “grab a slide and go,” but rather an enticing neighborhood hangout where customers linger for great food and good times.
Coco Pazzeria is located at 1078 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Visit: www.cocopazzeria.com
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ciro Verde