Cookbook Q&A - Rick Lopez
Rick Lopez, chef and co-owner, Trattoria LaTavola
When husband and wife duo Rick and Krista Lopez decided to open a new restaurant, Trattoria LaTavola, in July 1999, coming up with a name was the easy part. “We gave it the name LaTavola, or ‘family table,’ because it indeed was a family affair, with both our sisters and brother-in-law working here,” Rick explains. “We wanted LaTavola to be a small neighborhood trattoria liked you'd find in Italy, where everything is made by hand.” The restaurant’s first location was in Powell, though it has since moved to Dublin. In a recent e-mail interview with Ohio Magazine, chef Rick Lopez discusses the restaurant’s most popular dishes, his passion for pizza and the time a customer broke his heart. To learn more about the restaurant and its owners, please visit www.latavola.biz.
Q: Where were you born?
A: Columbus, Ohio.
Q: What was your first job in food service?
A: My first job was as a fry cook at Long John Silver’s in 1983. It took lots of courage to put that uniform on. Arrgh, mateys!
Q: When did you realize you wanted a career in food service?
A: I never made it as a rock star, and cooking is always something I’ve enjoyed, as well as entertaining the public, which is what every restaurant does every day.
Q: What are the restaurant’s most popular menu items?
A: Our most popular dishes are the gnocchi al forno and the veal saltimbocca, along with our daily fish special.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: Pizza with seasonal ingredients — I can never turn pizza down and even bad pizza is palatable.
Q: Do you have a personal culinary hero?
A: My grandmother [Dina] DeMarco is my personal culinary hero. Not only could she cook great from scratch, but she knew how to give her guests a memorable evening.
Q: What is your philosophy in the kitchen?
A: My philosophy is to always use the very best ingredients available with the least amount of preparation possible. Don’t ever try to overcook — too many flavors can overwhelm.
Q: What is your signature dish?
A: My gnocchi al forno has my homemade potato gnocchi, pancetta I cure myself, shiitake mushrooms, sweet onion, garlic, sage, Oakvale gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano baked golden brown.
Q: What is your favorite seasoning?
A: My current favorite is fennel pollen, but mint is also one of the most underused herbs… It is a very authentic Italian herb.
Q: What is the most challenging request you’ve ever received?
A: This request wasn’t difficult, but it broke my heart: Someone wanted ketchup for their pasta and wanted the carpaccio well done.
Q: What are your culinary pet peeves?
A: My biggest pet peeves are cheap ingredients, laziness and any produce grown in China that we can grow in the U.S. or Ohio.
Q: Anything else you want people to know about you or your restaurant?
A: We feature as many ingredients from Ohio as we can find: Amish butter from Hartzler, milk and cream cheese from Plain City Oakvale, produce from Wayward Seed, beef from Flying J Farm, chicken and pork raised in Fremont Ohio, and wheat flour and eggs from southern Ohio. We also have the best patio in the city, overlooking the Scioto River.