Chef Christopher DiLisi is the head chef at Baricelli Inn. We had the pleasure of meeting him a few months ago when he demoed his delightful local peach soup at Gourmets in the Garden, part of the summertime favorite Wade Oval Wednesdays in University Circle. After, we went to dinner at Baricelli where I posted about the restaurant’s efforts towards changing diner’s perceptions. Note: Since that post, I’ve heard that there are now in fact more wine options, both pour and bottle, at more reasonable prices.
1. Top five spices every home cook should have? 1. Black peppercorns. They are a basic spice in which all other spices, flavors and seasonings are based off of. 2. Cinnamon. If you are baking it is a necessity and can be used in savory dishes as well. 3. Cumin Seed. I love it. I use it in almost everything I make and so should all of you! 4. Cayenne Pepper. Used in very small doses it adds a nice heat to things. 5. Fennel Seed. I love it as well – it can be used in so many different ways.
2. Favorite thing to make? It is a tie between cheesecake and pasta. I love cheesecake because good cheesecake is very technique driven. I hate using any fillers for structure such as flour so the process is what makes it so light and perfect, i.e. no browning, no cracking, and cooling it properly. Everyone who eats it says it is so light. I personally hate cheesecake and cream cheese – they are vile substances. But I love to cook with it. I love pasta because it is truly a labor of love; really good pasta dough gets me excited, in a completely professional manner of course! I love working with pasta dough.
3. Least favorite thing to make? Chicken sausage. Yesterday was the second time I made chicken sausage for our new late summer menu (Note: this q&a was originally completed in August). It came out great, in fact it is amazing the texture and seasoning is perfect but the mess is insane. Pork sausage is no picnic either, but the chicken sausage has a knack of being just sticky and getting everywhere. It took me two hours to clean and sanitize the mixer, grinder, ceiling, shoes, my left ear. Just a mess.
4. If you could cook for one person who would it be? Gandhi. Hands down the easiest meal I would ever have to make. No prep, no service, no clean up! Don’t forget to tip your server Mr. Gandhi!
5. Favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? The Cleveland Browns are my favorite thing about Cleveland, (I know I am a glutton for punishment.) I also love that there is so much culinary talent in this city. We have a ton of great chefs and great independent restaurants. The thing that drives me nuts about our great city is the abundance of chain restaurants and the perception that large portion size equals quality and good value. Chain restaurants homogenize everything and take away the cultural and distinct influences of northeast Ohio. I realize they serve a specific niche and do so well, but it still drives me nuts.
6. Top five songs at a dinner party? Safety dance/Men without hats. I want my guests to know how important kitchen safety is to me. Cuts like a knife/Brian Adams. I want my guests to know that my knives are sharp and truly cut like I say they do. Summertime Rolls/Janes Addiction. If I am cooking at home for others then it is summer, I am grilling, and this song rules. Redemption Song/Bob Marley. That is how I feel when all our guests beat our butt in cornhole! Red Hot Chili Peppers (any song). They are a great summer band. You hear them you need to be doing something, why not cook and eat.
7. Favorite Cleveland Restaurant? Like I said before I feel Cleveland has an abundance of great independent restaurants all with talented chefs. If I have to choose one though I would pick Downtown 140 in Hudson. It is small, charming and their chef Shawn Monday can cook his butt off. PS – my wife works there so I may be a tad bias.
8. What restaurant do I miss? Without a doubt, Dante. I have eaten there on numerous occasions and never had a bad moment. Chef Dante is really talented and I look forward to eating at Dante again in Tremont very soon.
9. What restaurants have Clevelanders yet to discover? I am going to cheat here. I know they have discovered Baricelli Inn but I think it is time they rediscover it. I know I am really bias but I am very proud of the passion, and skill that goes into every aspect of our food. We don’t cut any corners – our kitchen is a completely scratch kitchen. Our menu changes seven to eight times a year. I do all pastries and desserts in-house including ice cream and sorbet. We are really attempting to make fine dining a casual experience and not make it stuffy or take ourselves way too serious. I want our guests to feel like we are having fun doing what we do because we are. I love it. We are a destination restaurant for sure but we are also priced to be frequented more often than every five years. Come in and get a glass of wine and a cheese board from our affinage, grab some cappuccino with dessert, or an app with a martini. We are here to serve you Cleveland!
10. Last meal on earth? Thanksgiving dinner! I am a mashed potato freak and that is the best time to eat them, plus the turkey isn’t half bad either.
11. How old were you when you started cooking and why did you decide to become a chef? I remember vividly going to my grandfather’s house and he would always be cooking either pizza, pasta, or the “sauce”. I have probably heard grandpa is making the sauce about five thousand times in my life. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember if the sauce was good! My grandpa died 13 years ago, but when he made sauce it was an event. It took 24 hours it seemed, but when it was nearing completion all his children and their families would gather waiting for the sauce and playing poker, which is where I learned pocket aces are a very good thing. But the thing I took from that was that food was special and meant to be enjoyed by the people you enjoy being around. My grandfather didn’t know what bruniose was or how to make hollandaise, but man could he cook, and often I would try to help him in his efforts. So that is where the seed was planted. Ironically enough I really decided to become a chef because I always found cooking to be relaxing and calming. Ha – that’s funny!
12. If I weren’t a chef you would be? A football coach.
13. If you could be any other chef for a day? Ferran Adria. The way he thinks food is so interesting. He can take someone’s perception of an ingredient and completely twist it and change every molecule of it and it still retain the essential essence of the ingredient. He is just so good that it is truly humbling.
14. If you could visit any restaurant in the world? El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s restaurant in Spain. Spain is now the forefront of the new avan garde movement in food. Most of Adria’s “students” have taken up residence there and are now creating some very interesting and exciting food. Their molecular gastronomic creations would never sell in Cleveland but I think it is good that chefs are thinking way outside the box.
15. Favorite TV show? Househunters. I can’t explain it but that show is mesmerizing.
16. Favorite kitchen gadget? Immersion blender (me too!)
17. Favorite shortcut when cooking? I really don’t take any shortcuts at work. Everything we make we do the right way. That is how I believe you are truly ready to become a head chef. Do the right things the right way no matter who is watching or if anyone would notice otherwise. That is the only way I know how to do this job. Even at home I find myself not cutting too many corners.
18. Signature dish? At Baricelli we really don’t have a signature dish. We are constantly changing our menu based on seasons. Our menu changes are truly comprehensive as well so we don’t have many holdovers from old menus. My mantra is to never repeat what we have done in the past. So I make sure we are always trying fresh ideas with seasonal ingredients.