Illustration: Dan Bransfield, DanBran.com
ESCOFFIER QUESTIONNAIRE: JOHN FRANCHETTI
BY MARISSA GUGGIANA
Learning that this issue would be an ode to local dairy, I immediately thought of Chef John Franchetti and that naturally led to my rolling Rossoo Pizzeria’s extraordinarily delicious burrata around in my mind’s mouth.
John is the chef and co-owner of Rosso, which now has a location in Petaluma as well as its original home in Santa Rosa. John is a Sonoma Countian by birth, but took off his culinary training wheels in New Orleans, working at Commander’s Palace and also under the tutelage of Emeril Lagasse. He eventually came home to northern California and, after perfecting pizza at St. Helena’s Tra Vigne, he opened Rosso with partner Kevin Cronin. There, they make and serve those rounds of dairy divinity that I still savor long after I leave the restaurant. John buys his groceries at the farmers’ market and helps the local “slow foodies” in their efforts. He is a good neighbor, in harmony with being a very good cook.
To turn an Escoffier Questionnaire query on myself, I would describe Rosso and John with the same three adjectives: warm, honest and deliziosissima.
Chef: John Franchetti
Restaurants: Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar in Santa Rosa and Rosso Pizzeria + Mozzarella Bar in Petaluma
What was your favorite food as a kid?
Roasted duck! We often got to eat duck a l’orange or Pekin duck at the Imperial Palace.
What was the first meal you made that you were proud of?
At age 10 I made a grilled butterflied leg of lamb, with roasted ratatouille and rosemary potatoes.
What three adjectives describe your cuisine?
The flavors “pop” in your mouth.
The menu is constantly “evolving” with the ingredients.
Food made with “love” from the heart.
What book most influences your food, cookbook or otherwise?
The books fit the ingredients. I will refer to many books at any given time while cooking. Books that I tend to revisit are On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, for clarification; Larousse Gastronomique, to understand the roots of an ingredient or dish; Heat, by Bill Buford; and all things by Danny Meyers.
What chef do you most admire?
My mentor, Emeril Lagasse. He has helped me throughout my career and set me off in the right direction. I am very thankful for my nine-year mentorship with him at the very start of my career.
What is your favorite ingredient?
Every day is different, but “love juice”—aka olive oil—always tops the list.
What music do you like to hear when you cook?
Nothing slow and no crazy metal.
What is your favorite hangover meal?
Pickled herring in cream. I don’t have hangovers anymore, but I still crave herring.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
I have great memories of the European tradition of goulash, which I crave for a midnight snack.
What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?
Let’s just say that wherever I go is a place that I can’t wait to go to. I have recently been to Germany, where there are so many amazing possibilities, but the best was Rogacki. OMG, a real food overload.
What kitchen utensil is most indispensable to you?
Cast iron pans.
Whom do you most like to cook for?
My wife, Gesine.
If you could do one other job, what would it be?
What do you most value in a sous-chef?
A sense of my direction and the ability to improve it from there!
What food trend would you most like to erase from the annals of history?
Eating bugs, maybe.
What one food would you take with you on a desert island?
A fruit tree of any kind.
What is your favorite guilty-pleasure treat?
Aren’t they all guilty pleasures? For me, anything fatty. Beef, pig, lamb, fish, chicken or fat livers, cold and smeared on bread or hot with salt and pepper caked on it.
What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
In the summer, icy pops; in the fall, chocolate bars; and in winter and spring, I love ice cream.
What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?
Rack of lamb, I can even smell it now.
Cheeseburger or foie gras?
Foie gras, though that is a very tough decision.
What’s your favorite place to go for (and what is your favorite thing to order) . . .
. . . happy hour?
Rosso’s happy hour. I love the garlic rolls with our burrata.
. . . pastry?
Everything at Pasticeria Angelica in Rome.
. . . a late night/after work meal?
Santa Rosa is not really open late. I love Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco for late night cheese fries.
. . . a cup of coffee?
Naples, Italy, is by far the best coffee experience I’ve had, with Paris as a close second, but Peet’s is more convenient for me.
. . . groceries?
Santa Rosa farmers’ market, G&G, Trader Joe’s and Pet Club.
. . . kitchen equipment?
Myers for the restaurants; Sur la Table for me.
. . . ice cream?
Screamin’ Mimi’s (Sebastopol).
And lastly but not leastly . . . what is your favorite local wine or beer for the season?
Amista sparkling Syrah rosé.
Marissa Guggiana is the co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild, a national organization to promote and preserve butchery. She has authored two cookbooks: Primal Cuts: Cooking With America’s Best Butchers (Welcome Books, 2010) and Off The Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants (Welcome Books, 2011). She is a fifth generation Santa Rosan.
ROSSO’S WILD MUSHROOM SALAD WITH BURRATA AND MASCARPONE POLENTA
Yield: 8 first-course servings
INGREDIENTS FOR WARM MUSHROOM SALAD
1/2 pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1/2 pound fresh morel mushrooms
1/2 pound button mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Zest from 2 lemons
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
INGREDIENTS FOR MASCARPONE POLENTA
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups ground polenta
3 ounces mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
INGREDIENTS TO FINISH
4 rounds of burrata cheese, each cut in half
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated
TO PREPARE THE WARM
In a large bowl, toss mushrooms with just enough of the olive oil to moisten them, then add the rosemary and lemon zest. Allow to rest for 1/2 hour.
After the 1/2 hour, heat a medium sauté pan and add the remainder of the olive oil and the garlic and shallots; season with salt and pepper and lightly sauté for about a minute.
Add the mushrooms and turn the heat up to high and cook quickly for 2 minutes to wilt the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the parsley and remove from heat.
TO PREPARE THE MASCARPONE POLENTA
Bring the cream and chicken stock to boil in a medium saucepan. Season liberally with salt and pepper and reduce to a simmer. Slowly, whisking constantly, add the polenta to the simmering liquid. Allow to simmer 2 additional minutes, then remove from the heat. Mix in the mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses, then cover.
Taste all the components for seasonings and adjust, if necessary. Place a generous spoonful of the polenta on each plate and top with half of a round of burrata. Spoon the warm mushroom salad over the burrata. Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.