10 Questions: Julian Barsotti

For the longest time people complained about the lack of any original Italian restaurants in Dallas. Then along came Barsotti and his highly regarded restaurant, Nonna.

He arrived after a few years in Oakland and San Francisco, but Barsotti is a Dallas native. His mother owns the catering operation Food Company. In fact, they share a kitchen. And his grandmother's family owns a string of restaurants in New Jersey.

So he was familiar with professional kitchens from and early age. He earned acclaim from Bon Appetit. He can speak at length about the nuances of pasta or Italy's regional favorites--even travels there on a regular basis. So why does he love schnitzel so much...?

1. People used to say there's no good Italian food in Dallas. Why was that?
It kinda depends on what your perception of Italian food is--which regional influence. It was a lot of the same thing here: Southern Italian, red sauce. I think American-Italian can be good.

2. What's the difference between store pasta and fresh pasta?
Oh, man. You know, I like to think of pasta in two different ways. In general, the Northern Italian style is soft 00 flour, eggs and maybe some water, maybe not. In the Southern Italy, they generally use semolina and water. They're both great, but different. I think you can get a good home pasta. The most important thing is the right sauce for the pasta. The texture of pasta is such a magnificent thing, you want to let it shine.

3. Just what is al dente? Why do so many people have a problem with it?
I have an interesting opinion on that. Texturally, egg pastas with 00 flour is great, very delicate. It does have a texture at al dente, but it is a delicate texture. In the south, al dente does mean to the tooth pasta. You know, I love pasta. In Italy they're such freaks about small stuff like that. They're so bound by tradition. But when you eat it there you realize, why would you ever change it? When I go over there, I come back inspired to be simplistic.

4. What about people who love polenta and hate grits?
I've been trying to educate myself on the difference. It's basically just the way they shatter the grain. Grits end up more coarse. Generally, Italians like it a lot finer than in the American south. But people just develop an association with a word. I love grits.

5. Why is Italian cuisine so popular?
I think...well, why I like it is that comfort food is so popular and so many things associated with Italian cuisine--pasta, pizza, lasagna--are approachable, easy food that is not complicated.

6. Do you cry when you pass an Olive Garden?
I've actually never eaten at one. But my friends call up with Olive Garden jokes. I feel sorry for people who think it's great.

7. What's the difference between Italian cooking in New York-New Jersey and here?
I can't speak for New Jersey. In New York, as with all cuisines, there's a huge diversity. They have old school Italian and the newer set--Batali and those guys. New York has it all.

8. Is there a chef you'd love to work with?
Yes, most definitely. This guy Michael Tusk. He owns Quince in San Francisco. His food is really simple, but it's impeccable. Every single strand of pasta has to be perfect. His food is revelatory. Either that or at one of the Thomas Keller restaurants.

9. Wouldn't you rather learn German cooking?
You know, I don't know enough to comment on it. I had a layover in Frankfurt though, coming back from Italy. I had a giant beer and veal schnitzel. It was delicious. I felt like I had concrete in my stomach, but it was awesome.

10. How many jars of Prego do you have at home?
I don't. We don't have anything to eat at my house, that's the main problem. I don't get home until night. I get Whataburger when I'm hungry. We don't even have a microwave.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries