Chef Chris Cipollone: Don't Call Piora Fusion
The media has made much of the Korean-Italian mash-up at the heart of Piora (430 Hudson Street, 212-960-3801), the West Village restaurant opened by Simon Kim and chef Chris Cipollone last year, but Cipollone insists that to focus on fusion is to miss the point: "We're a modern American restaurant," he says. "Just for the record, that's what we're trying to do -- not perfect the kimchi ravioli."
The Italian bass note comes from Cipollone's background; he grew up in Westchester, and his parents, who owned a wine store, exposed him to fine dining early. His family's friends were chefs, so he spent a lot of time in the kitchen, landing his first job as a dishwasher when he was 14. He cooked full-time while he was in high school, which gave him an idea of the time demands of the profession, and after spending a year post-graduation in a kitchen, he packed his knives off to the Culinary Institute of America, where he honed his skills.
He graduated on September 9, 2001, and he was ready to go in for an interview at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the twin towers, the next Friday. "I was going to set up a job and then go to Italy," he explains. Two days later, the whole world changed, and in the aftermath, Cipollone decided to head to Europe anyway and deal with his career questions when he returned.
When he was back on American soil, though, no one was hiring in the city -- so he spent more time in Westchester, landing his first chef job there at age 24. He finally made his way to the Big Apple via a job at Dylan Prime in Tribeca, and then he went to work for Scott Conant at Faustina before signing on as the chef at Tenpenny in the Gotham Hotel in Midtown, where he received a lot of attention for his menu.
When that contract ended, he spent some time mulling over his next project, which is when he connected with Kim, who took him to South Korea. The partners decided to open a restaurant that drew from their backgrounds, and so Piora was born.
In this interview, Cipollone talks about his philosophy, Korean food in America, and being a vegetable shaman.