Hunter Pritchett, exec chef of Luca d'Italia, on bum piss and fried fish
This is part one of my interview with Hunter Pritchett, exec chef of Luca d'Italia. Part two of my chat with Pritchett will run in this space tomorrow.
Hunter Pritchett and his kitchen crew are thumbing through an Italian phrasebook, one that's devoted to naughty slogans, maxims and mottos, most of which are hilarious...and unprintable. There's a blank green chalkboard in the open kitchen of Luca d'Italia, where Pritchett oversees the burners, and by the time he gets to the last page of the phraseology guide, he's decided on an inoffensive one-liner to scrawl there: minne di Sant' Agata, which translates to "breasts of virgins."
Pritchett, however, is no virgin in the kitchen. Born in Miami, he's lived -- and cooked -- all over the globe: New York, London, Malaysia, the Philippines, Las Vegas and Vermont. "Food, and food culture, was a really big deal while I was growing up, and my first job in the kitchen was working illegally at a Long John Silver's when I was fourteen," says Pritchett, who adds that it sucked. "I was the fry guy -- frying hush puppies and frozen hunks of fish in the biggest, nastiest fryer you've ever seen -- and I've never been burned so often in my life. The amount of oil and grease was just gross."
Still, he insists, "the rush of fast food was like a crash course in the pace of cooking in a hellish kind of way, and there was something about it that made me want to continue on this path." And, in fact, he went right back to the sea of fried sea creatures when he worked at "a greasy, fishy sandwich joint" in Vermont, before he realized that even in Burlington, there existed bona fide restaurants.
He eventually became the executive chef of an Italian restaurant, and later, a bistro. "It was -- and, thirty years later, still is -- the best restaurant in Burlington," says Pritchett, which could explain why he left Vermont altogether. "I'd worked everywhere there was to work, and I couldn't go any further, plus it had been a very long Vermont winter, so I moved to Las Vegas." He did a year-long stint at the original Andre's, which Pritchett calls a "super-old-school-Vegas, outrageously expensive, Escoffier-type of French restaurant that really taught me to respect ingredients, but the truth is, I couldn't relate to it at all."