From the kitchens of Italy to the American dream
Every Sunday morning as a young boy, Gian Piero Mazzi was awakened to the sound of pots and pans clanging to life in his mother’s kitchen.
“She would start cooking at 9 a.m. Every Sunday I heard that sound, and I’ll never forget it,” says Piero, chef and owner of Piero’s Corner in Herndon, Va. “Food was a big part of our family, and my mother’s love of cooking had a tremendous influence on me.”
Despite his parent’s suggestion that Mazzi consider studying the law or medicine, it was the lure of culinary adventure that took him around the world, to study, to explore, and eventually to create a long-lived rustic Italian restaurant with his wife Carmela . And to embrace the American dream of owning his own business, and enjoying the fruits of his labors with his family and the community since he opened its doors in 2003.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Mazzi describes rising up from his early years “living and surviving in the kitchen” to his life as a well-seasoned, competitive chef and owner.
Q: Tell me about your early years ‘living & surviving’ in the kitchen.
It’s just like it sounds. You get out of culinary school, and you’re all pumped up and ready to go to work. And then reality strikes. And then you’re in the kitchen with a bunch of rude guys. You have to learn everything about the restaurant from the ground up. I started in Italy … back then, it was a lot of pressure.
Q: How did you get from Italy to owning your own restaurant in Virginia?
I met the right people. In this job, you can only do it for so long as a cook. It’s hard work, and if you choose it as a profession, to be happy, I have found you need your own kitchen. It happened for me after I met my wife and father-in-law, who invested in me and the restaurant. Because of my family, we were able to open in 2003, and we went on to be very successful. But it’s a lot of work and you need to have the right staff and customers in order to make it.
Q: Finding the right staff can be a challenge.
The challenges are to find other people who share in your passion. It’s hard to instill it. If they look at the work as only a paycheck, they should look somewhere else. The reward here is being able to live the dream. We’re happy. The restaurant is profitable. We’ve had the same staff for 12 years now. Though we’ve had some turnover, with students going to college, we’re like a family here.
Q: Do you ever wish you’d followed your Mom’s advice to be a doctor or a lawyer?
Oh God no. When I was 16, I tried to do nursing (study) in Italy. It was not for me. I don’t do well in hospitals. My Mom, like many mothers, thinks you have to be someone to be successful. She didn’t know I would become successful by following her footsteps. I learned by watching her cook, and eventually went to culinary school, before working in Paris and on the French Riviera. When I had the opportunity to come to the United States, it was originally going to be for three or four months. But, I got a job and opportunities opened up to me.
Q: And you always stayed true to your rustic Italian culinary roots.
We serve traditional regional Italian cuisine. I’m very old fashioned about Italian food, and my recipes don’t do well with infusion. I do like the trend for fresh ingredients, and incorporate those when possible. But for me, seafood is my forte, and that’s the staple of our menu. We import fish from all over the world and present it in our rustic interpretation.
Q: What advice would you offer someone who wants to start their own restaurant?
To find the right partner. It’s a lot of work. You’re going to give up something. Your lifestyle. Find somebody that has the same passion, so you can share the success and have some time off. — Piero’s Corner uses Boxerbrand’s iCandy product line in their menu cover presentation.