James Beard Award-winning Phoenix pizza chef Chris Bianco is bringing his namesake pizzeria to downtown Tucson this fall.

Bianco hopes to open Pizzeria Bianco in a 2,000-square-foot space next to The Hub on East Congress Street sometime in November or early December. This will be Bianco's second pizzeria.

"Tucson was a logical fit for us. I love all the elements of being close to the wine country, the farmers in Willcox," Bianco said in a phone call Tuesday, after TV host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel, Bianco's close friend, tweeted the news of the Tucson venture.

"I have a lot of friends in the southern part of the state and ... (the area) has a lot of things that are special to me personally," Bianco said.

Bianco opened Pizzeria Bianco in 1994, about eight years after he moved to Phoenix from his native New York. He personally stood over the oven of his modest downtown pizza shop and tossed each wood-fired artisan pie - some days as many as 250 - topping them with fresh-made mozzarella cheese and locally sourced tomatoes.

The pies quickly won a devoted following and gushing reviews in the local media. And it didn't take long to curry a national fan base, ignited after the New York Times profiled Bianco and called his pizza among the best in the U.S. Bon Appétit, GQ, Vogue and Gourmet magazines followed, and celebrity chefs/lifestyle personalities Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart chimed in, as did Oprah Winfrey.

Seven years ago, Bianco teamed up with London celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to open four Union Jack's restaurants in London.

"My relationship with Jamie will be a huge part of what we bring to Tucson," said Bianco, who has been toying with the idea of a Tucson restaurant for the past year. "I'm not the best businessman; I'm a chef who does things more from his heart than his head. But this time I think we have the great opportunity to do some of the best work we've ever done because of all the elements: An incredible space, a great relationship with our landlord (Scott Stiteler), great relationship with our neighbors."

"I look forward to being a part of the community. We're excited to get started and cook for Tucson."

Bianco is the second Phoenix-area celebrity chef to open a restaurant in Tucson. Aaron May opened his first, May's Counter Chicken & Waffles, on East Speedway a couple years ago. Last December he launched his new concept, The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen, in Tucson at the Foothills Mall.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Published: April 17, 2013