q & a with chef paul minnillo

Of all the talented chefs in Cleveland, Paul Minnillo is perhaps the most celebrated. I’ve yet to find a better patio, with a better atmosphere and more tempting wine and cheese offerings than at The Baricelli Inn (the bucatini is a must, too).

1. The top 5 spices that are a must in every kitchen? Sea Salt, telichery pepper, fennel, cinnamon and all spice.

2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? Favorite – Making any kind of sausage – Italian, Lamb, Venison – my Grandfather taught me when I was a teenager and I’ve been making sausage ever since.

Least Favorite – Baked desserts require too much measuring and accuracy. I’m also not a big recipe reader and to bake requires a certain amount of that. In order words, baking is not intuitive for me.

3. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be?
Joel Robuchon. He was a great influence in my early cooking years.

4. You’re having a dinner party, what are the top 5 songs on your play list? JJ Cale, Eric Clapton, The Doors, 3 Tenors, Pavorotti – any of my wife’s compilation CD’s – she’s my music guru.

5. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? I’ve have too many friends in the business to be this specific. I was cornered on this question once and never heard the end of it!

6. What restaurant do you miss? Battuto – we became very good friends with Mark & Giovanna Divario and I was sad to see such a great place close.

7. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts about this city?

Restaurants in Cleveland are a great value compared to other cities and the talent here is terribly underrated. It drives me nuts that people will brag about what they ate and spent for a mediocre dinner at a celebrated restaurant in another city. If Clevelanders can get past the hundreds of chains in this city (that they support!) they will discover a very vibrant independent restaurant culture.

8. Most famous person you have cooked for?
I’ve cooked for several famous peeps including Julia Child, Bill Cosby and Shirley McClain.

9. Most unusual food you have ever tried?
We had “fresh” razor clams that were, in fact, alive and well. They did the hula when you squeezed lemon on them. I’m serious; they literally stood up and danced. I tried one and it gave me the creeps.

10. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Operating a winery in Piedmont or Tuscany.

11. What hidden café/restaurant have Clevelanders yet to discover?
Let me know! There’s nothing that I know of on the east side and I would love to support a small unsung, hardworking establishment.

12. Favorite place to grocery shop?
I try to go directly to the farmers. I was going to Secours in Perry all summer, Saturday’s to Shaker Market. Now that it’s Fall I’ll go to Edy’s or Sages for apples and pears. Farmer Jones and Miles Farmer’s Market also has wonderful produce.

13. How have you (Baricelli) survived for so long in this market?
Million-dollar question. It’s not easy in a city like Cleveland where there are chains on every street corner. It also doesn’t help that the population gets smaller every year. We were a fine dining establishment for 22 years, which put us in the “special occasion” niche. People go out more often and don’t require a special occasion to do so. Our new menu reflects the growing trend of casual dining and we’re having fun again preparing what we love when we travel to Italy – simple, hearty dishes, Italian comfort food, if you will. Business is booming, people are walking in without reservations! I love it. Change is good.

14. What three cheeses are a must for people to try?
Tough question. We have the only affinage cooler in Cleveland, and over 50 cheeses. Here are three but I’m sure I’ll change my mind after I hit the send button:

1. Gratte Paille – a triple cream from France
2. Meadow Creek Farms, Grayson (Galax Virginia) – a raw milk cheese similar to a French Reblochon
3. Any of our goats after approximately six weeks of aging

15. What is your favorite thing about Baricelli and running a restaurant in general? Making people happy. Food and wine brings people together. I get a thrill walking through my restaurant, seeing people having fun and enjoying what we worked very hard to bring to the table. I’ve made many, many friends here.

16. What advice do you have for chefs just starting out?
You had better really love what you’re doing or you are in the wrong profession. It’s all about passion and sweat!

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    great q + a, paul is as good as you get. your last question though should have asked about his bedtime! he has a tendency to run out early on fundraisers. matt

  2. rockandroller
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Damn, he cooked for Julia!

    Great interview. I admit that while I’ve referred lots of people to Baricelli, I’ve avoided it because of how expensive I heard it was through word of mouth. I’ll try to get there now that they’re doing things a little more casually.

  3. michelle v
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Definitely check it out. I know it has a reputation of being very expensive, but earlier this year they lowered the prices. When we were there, I thought the prices were in line with what you see in Tremont and Ohio City. And you can get a 1/2 order of pasta so if you wanted to, you could get out of there with out spending too much.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 2, 2007 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I was there recently and the prices were not that expensive. The small plate pastas are still really nicely portioned. Yet, I think my next visit will consist soley of the cheese appetizer and a bottle of wine! Yum!

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