Editor’s note: Tucson cuisine has a national reputation thanks to the restaurants and chefs who run them. Today, we revive our “Chef du Jour” series and give you the skinny on — and a recipe from — some of the chefs that make up the fabric of our food here.
When Daniel Scordato‘s father opened Scordato’s restaurant in the Tucson Foothills in 1972, 14-year-old Danny and his two older brothers were thrown into the fire as chefs, helping out their dad by learning how to make Italian cuisine on the job.
Now 40 years later, Daniel Scordato is still cooking for somebody else.
“I cook for my customers,” he said. “I never ever cook for critics or people who want something unusual that they’ve never had because I want to have dishes people will really want to have every time they come in.”
Scordato is executive owner and chef of Vivace Restaurant, 6440 N. Campbell Ave., where he’s parlayed his roughly 40 years of restaurant experience into one of Tucson’s premier Italian restaurants.
The business, which moved to its current location in March, has transformed from a casual dining experience to more of a celebration-oriented ambiance since it opened in 1993.
However, the personality of the restaurant, which is to keep it simple, remains the same.
Scordato uses high-quality ingredients to create recipes that appeal to the tastes of customers. He said his ability to relate to the palate of his audience has helped him form dishes that his people would be most interested in eating.
“My whole philosophy with cooking is I want to cook for the food,” he said. “Bring out the best of the food. Don’t want to hide it with too many ingredients.”
Scordato said that while it might seem “corny and hokey” to boast about providing for your customers, owning a restaurant can sometimes make you forget about your clientele.
“We are in the business for the customers and not ourselves and that’s what we need to remember,” he said.
He took some time to answer a few questions for us:
What is your favorite kitchen tool?
“I love my six-burner range and oven. I like really good burners that can get instantly hot so that I can sauté fast and get the pan hot quickly and then have a good, even oven that can cook it right. And my favorite utensil is my tongs.”
What is the biggest kitchen disaster you’ve had?
“At Scordato’s restaurant, the Ansul system, or the fire suppression system, went off. My brother set it off. These were the old ones and they used to have a powder and it got everywhere. We got open that night. Everyone just pitched in and cleaned like crazy.”
What is the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?
“It was one of the most expensive restaurants I’ve ever ate at. It was their amuse-bouche. This was a restaurant where our meal was $600 for two of us. The dinner was good but some of those amuse-bouche were so strange and different that we had trouble eating it. That was at one of the top restaurants in California, in wine country.”
Who is your favorite chef?
“André Soltner. He was from Lutèce (in New York City) back in the 1970s and ’80s. He was the ultimate chef. Every day they were open he was there. He made impeccable food and was a perfectionist, but he didn’t do anything strange. He just did very high-quality French cuisine at its best.”
What items are always in your fridge at home?
“Not much. I always keep broccoli and cauliflower and some sort of meat, like ham or some deli meat or canned tuna. When I wake up in the morning, I just like to have protein and vegetables because I know when I go to work I’m going to be trying stuff. At least in the morning, I can eat healthy.”
What is your favorite ingredient?
“Chicken. Easily chicken. I love chicken. If there was one dish to eat the rest of my life, chicken would be it. I never get tired of it. I could eat it sautéed, grilled, roasted — any way. My favorite part is the dark meat with skin on it.”
Justin Sayers is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing at the Star. Contact him at email@example.com or 573-4117.