A mentor and his protege return to the kitchen together this Thursday for a one-night only pop-up dinner to benefit Three Square Food Bank. Matthew Accarrino, the former chef de cuisine at Rick Moonen's first solo project Restaurant RM, will be in the kitchen at RM Seafood at Mandalay Place to cook a five-course seafood dinner paired with wines for $150.
Accarino, now the chef at SPQR in San Francisco, was just nominated for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation. Here he talks about Moonen's influence on him, some of the surprises to anticipate at the dinner and more.
Tickets are still available for the dinner that starts at 7 p.m. with a cocktail reception featuring hand-crafted specialty cocktails by RM Seafood lead barman Nathan Greene. For reservations, call 702-632-9300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell me about SPQR. What are some of your specialty dishes there?
SPQR is an intimate restaurant in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. I started there in late 2009. The restaurant is doing well; we earned our first Michelin star last October on the same day that our cookbook (SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine) was released. My vision for the cuisine is for it to be informed by my Italian heritage but guided by my provenance as an American and our geographic region. Not to fuse two cuisines together but to allow my own roots and history to guide my American cooking. The menu constantly evolves with the seasons and inspiration.
Tell me about working with Rick Moonen. What was your role there and when and where did you work with him?
I first worked with Rick at Oceana in New York City. That restaurant was a well-oiled machine. There was so much demand and we were always busy no matter what. Even then I always wanted to put pasta on the menu or do something Italian-inspired. Rick was always supportive. When he made the move from Oceana to open rm seafood in New York I went with him. The most important thing I take away from Rick was that all the food was always really delicious. I could still get in a room with the people I worked with back then and we could all talk about and remember our favorite dishes.
What made you decide to come back to Vegas to cook with Rick?
After working for Rick I went to be a sous chef opening per se with Thomas Keller. Since then I've moved out to San Francisco and Rick is now in Las Vegas. We have stayed in touch, I'm looking forward to cooking alongside him again, and it has been too long. He is a mentor and an old friend; it will be a special night for everyone.
I've read about how you learned technique, kitchen organization, discipline and how to strive for perfection working at Per Se, how to modernized a regional Italian menu at Colonna outside Rome and were even encouraged to apply to CIA by Charlie Trotter and Emeril Lagasse. What did you learn from Rick?
Rick taught me how to run a busy restaurant with high standards and grace. About the importance of coming in each and every day to try and do what you did yesterday better. He taught me about incorporating flavors and making delicious food
How does what you learned from Rick translate in the kitchen at SPQR?
We are very lucky to have a busy little restaurant at SPQR. It does present its own challenges in terms of space, time and resources. I often call upon the grace, positivity and tenacity that I saw when working for Rick each and every day to inspire myself
For the dinner on March 14, the two of you will be cooking together again. What do you plan to bring to the table?
Flavorful food that has an Italian inspiration but is authentic to who I am. To bring delicious flavors, food and hospitality to the table
Any surprises for the night?
Each diner will receive a copy of my cookbook at the dinner, I will be happy to personalize each and every one. I'm also bringing handmade takeaways for everyone.
I've also read that one reason you wanted to cook in California was the difference in the vegetables you could find there. Will you be bringing anything from California for the dinner at RM Seafood?
Lots of things. I'm looking to weave some great farmed and wild California produce into a seafood themed menu. I work closely with a farmer that helps us to grow what we need. We also have the bounty of our local farms and markets. Those sources combined with a few wild and foraged items will round out the menu.
Have you considered coming to Vegas with your own restaurant?
I have always loved to travel and see other places. I have been to Las Vegas many times in my life. You truly can never really say never.
· Matthew Accarrino Returns to Cook with Rick Moonen [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of RM Seafood [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of SPQR [~ESF~]
Matthew Accarrino [Photo: Ed Anderson]