FOOD PERSON is From Clive’s weekly series celebrating chefs, tastemakers, and founders in and around the food world. Focused around creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal origin, Food Person explores the unique and beautiful connections we all have to food and dining.
I sat down with Chef Pat Pascarella and the Porchetta Group team — Beverage Director Anthony Panzica, Director of Marketing Ashley Gutierrez, and Director of Events Samantha Schoessler — at Grana to talk about the Porchetta Group concepts, Italian wine, and home cooking. Chef Pat shares his recipe for Tomato Risotto with Shrimp + Burrata, which will be on the menu at their soon-to-open restaurant, Alici, early this Fall. Check out the recipe below the interview!
How did Grana come to be? You previously told me Grana was inspired by your mom’s cooking, right?
Chef Pat: Yea. So I actually came into this restaurant a bit late in the deal. My business partner Brian already had the space and it was going to be called something else, and it was gonna be set up more casual, like Antico, where you put your order in up front and then we find you. But this space is 10,000 square feet. Problem was — how would we find you? That didn’t make sense to me. So I basically hijacked the entire idea and was like we’re actually going to change it, we’re gonna call it Grana, we’re gonna do table service, and have only Italian wines. This restaurant is a replica of my restaurant in Connecticut, just bigger. The meatball flight was really popular there, and I knew it would be popular here. The only other difference is there, we didn’t have a wood fire oven, we had gas. But the meatballs still work out really well here.
How are you telling your mom’s story and the story of Southern Italy through the food here?
Chef Pat: You see this wall of pictures with the angry woman not smiling? That’s my grandmother and if you don’t like her food, she’s staring at you right now while you’re eating it. We try to instill that in everyone’s mind, that this is the cooking of the women in my life. And we’re not reinventing the wheel here, this is literally the food I grew up eating. To me, White Bull is the most creative restaurant we have, Bastone is basically a more approachable version of White Bull, but this (Grana) is the restaurant I want to eat in everyday because it’s got everything I want on the menu — pizza, pasta and meatballs.
What does your mom think of the food here?
Chef Pat: My mom loves it. My father hates everything I make. If my mom’s not cooking it, he hates it. But other than my wife, my mom’s the biggest fan.
White Bull is the most creative restaurant we have, Bastone is basically a more approachable version of White Bull, but Grana is the restaurant I want to eat in everyday. —Chef Pat
I can tell that the team aspect of Porchetta Group is so important to all your restaurant concepts. What were some of the initial connections between you all?
Anthony: I previously worked all throughout the restaurant industry, and took a hiatus at one point to work at a butcher shop, Spotted Trotter. I always wanted to learn butchery. But when it was time to move on, I found Chef Pat on Instagram when they were opening Grana, and I loved the concept of wood fire pizza, meatball flights, and Italian wines and knew that was where I wanted to work. I came in one night to check it out and just loved it here. We were treated like family. This is the type of food I grew up eating, so eating here felt like being at home.
Samantha: I actually also first came here as a guest. I sat up on the roof, and was just blown away by the food. I told literally everyone after that experience to go to Grana. Then when I was looking for another job, I saw that Chef was hiring for management. So I applied, got hired, and my area of responsibility was events at Grana. I eventually started taking over White Bull’s events too, and eventually became Events Director for Porchetta Group.
Ashley: I moved to Atlanta from New York two years ago, where I was doing event catering as a chef. At the time, it was COVID and everything was closed, but Grana was hiring. So I got hired as a server. I had worked front of house years ago, and just ended up picking it back up again. I ended up managing Grana for a little bit, and then also White Bull. I opened up Bastone when I came back from maternity leave. I love the company so much and I never want to go anywhere, so luckily I was able to move into an out of restaurant role in Marketing which was better for me since having my baby. It’s been really great to move into that role and get people excited about our restaurants. I’ve been able to create this family here in Atlanta with the team. I really like where I’ve ended up.
Chef Pat: These three here outshined everyone else in the company and deserved to move up into bigger roles. The problem we’re gonna run into is that if we don’t grow fast enough, we’re gonna lose great staff. Because you have people that want to move into bigger roles, but a lot of those just aren’t available right now. I try to involve these three in as many of the things we have coming up as possible. And staffing is just really hard right now. I try to keep morale and camaraderie high by making people feel like they’re a part of the greater picture. But one really great thing about Atlanta is that we have The Giving Kitchen. That’s so big that people can get access to what they need. But we have a really good solid crew of staff that can continuously move this company into the next direction, but now we have to cultivate the next round of people because we have a lot we want to do in the next 5 or 6 years.
This is the type of food I grew up eating, so eating here felt like being at home. —Anthony
Samantha, what do you think are some of Porchetta Group’s best places to host events?
I try to make an event possible for anyone who is inquiring about having one in one of our spaces. Grana’s great because it’s huge and we can fit groups anywhere. The mezzanine is great place for people to have a private space looking out onto the restaurant. The roof is a great spot for up to 100 or 120 people. It’s such a great space and we have a lot of people wanting to book that right now. Bastone has really great spaces as well. It has a fully private room for up to 18 with a really long table. White Bull and the back patio is really picking up with events. The patio is gorgeous and really spacious, so we can manipulate the space really well.
Anthony, what goes into crafting the wine list for a Porchetta Group Restaurant?
All of our restaurants have to have Italian wine, Italian grape varietals, or made in Italy and then brought here. White Bull is the one wildcard — all of our restaurants are region-specific except for While Bull. White Bull could have wine from all of Italy, and also be Italian grapes grown in California, so Cal-Italian wines, Oregon, Washington, even New York and Virginia. Australia also makes fantastic Italian wines right now. But for the most part, it’s straight from Italy.
You guys do a ton of pasta, meatball and wine classes across all your concepts. Why’s that education piece so important to you?
Chef Pat: When I first got to Atlanta and was working at The Optimist, I realized that California and French wines were all over the menus here. And when I looked at the food around the city, every single Italian restaurant had chicken parm, cacio e pepe, and a really similar menu. I wanted to do it differently and focus on specific regions of Italy. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand why we don’t serve some of those dishes like chicken parm here. So we love to educate on region-specific food and all our pasta shapes. We like to explain why we choose to make all our pasta by hand instead of putting it through a machine. Then when Anthony came on board as Beverage Director, I told him I wanted all Italian wine across all our concepts, so we like to educate on why we chose that also. I really want people to understand what we’re doing here and why.
Anthony: Sometimes we get people in the restaurant that prefer a Napa Cabernet, but I’m usually able to find something comparable that’s Italian and that they’ll still enjoy. Someone came in and said they love Zinfandel from California. So I gave him Primitivo from Puglia. It’s the exact same grape as zinfandel genetically, just in Italy it’s called primitivo instead. And he fell in love with it when he tasted it. So it’s just about educating our guests about all the amazing Italian options out there.
It’s comforting cooking at home. I play Spanish music when I’m cooking and it just takes me back home. —Ashley
What does home cooking or going to restaurants outside Porchetta Group look like for you guys?
Samantha: I love to cook. Korean is something I’m really into cooking right now, there’s just so many interesting flavors, and one of my favorite condiments is chili oil. I love to do dinner parties where there’s like five courses and everyone’s around the kitchen, and there’s a bunch of beautiful plated dishes — that’s like my happy place. I made a ricotta gnocchi last night that turned out really well. Eating out is a little difficult for me right now because I don’t have time, and it’s hard to go places other than our restaurants because I just truly believe our staff and service is the best, so when I do eat out, I often just eat at our restaurants because I know I’m going to get great food and service. But Aziza is another restaurant I’m really impressed with, and their new place at Ponce is great.
Anthony: I love cooking too. I grew up in an Italian family where every Sunday there was something big being made — mostly sauce and pasta. I love grilling, and it has to be over charcoal or live fire for me. It just tastes ten times better that way. I love the challenge of learning all different cuts of meat. And I love adding flavor to the fire by taking herbs from my garden and throwing it into the fire to infuse that flavor into the meat. I love this time of year for cooking because all the foods I grew up eating are in season right now. Tomatoes, squash, zucchini flowers, squash blossoms, basil — I love pesto season. My wife loves caprese and charred caesar salad so I love doing that.
Ashley: I do a lot of Spanish cooking at home. Now that I’m in this Marketing role and I’m not always in the restaurants, I have more time to cook. My fiancée Blake also works for the company, and he gets home from work at like 10:30pm, so we eat later. We’ve just kind of adapted to that schedule. It’s comforting cooking at home. I play Spanish music when I’m cooking and it just takes me back home. People will be like, “What is this?” and I’m like “Shut up, it’s Karol G!”
Anthony: I did have a chance to go to Delbar in Inman Park the other night and that place is crushing it. The food was fantastic. I purposely live in Norcross so I’m very close to Buford Highway. I can cook a lot of things at home but the one thing I don’t make is Chinese food because it requires so many ingredients. So we love to get Chinese Food on Buford Highway.
Ashley: I love that dumpling place you told me about on Buford Highway, Northern China. The dumplings were so good. There’s also a ramen spot we like, LanZhou.
I just truly believe our staff and service is the best, so when I do eat out, I often just eat at our restaurants because I know I’m going to get great food and service. —Samantha
If you were to name a pet after a food, what would it be?
Chef Pat: I always wanted to name an english bulldog Cannoli because it kinda looks like one. At our restaurant in Connecticut, our most popular dish was cavatelli, so I joked that I wanted to name our son Cavatelli. But I also like Gnocchi as a name and other pasta shapes.
Anthony: I’d name a weiner dog named Buccatini. Or Rigatoni.
Ashley: I had a ferret named Porkchop, and I have a dog named Bagel right now. But if I got another dog, I think Sofrito would be a cool name.
What inspired the Porchetta Group logo?
Chef Pat: My entire life I was the underdog, and I was told I couldn’t do thing til pigs flew. So my logo’s a pig with wings because I guess now they’re flying.
RECIPE // Tomato Risotto
with Shrimp + Burrata
1/2 White Onion finely chopped
1/4 tsp Chili Flake
1/2 C Arborio Ric
1 C White Wine
2 C stock (chicken or shrimp
1 C Tomato Passata
1 Ball of Burrata
2 Tbsp Toasted pine nuts
tarragon + herbs
2 Tbsp Butter
1/2 C Parmesan Cheese
High Quality extra virgin olive oil
Dice your onion, and add it to a large skillet along with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Then turn the skillet to medium — you don’t want this to cook too fast. Season onion with salt. Add chili flake and dried tarragon. Don’t leave the pan, stir often! You want the onions to sweat, not fry. Continue to cook for about 4 minutes.
Add the rice to the skillet to toast, stirring constantly. Cook until the edges of each rice kernel are clear (the center of each will still be white). This will take about 2 minutes. Next, turn your heat to low, and add white wine. It should be enough to just cover the rice. Continue to stir constantly! This will help the starch come out of the rice, resulting in creamy risotto. Cook until the bottom of the pan is dry, a few minutes.
Now add chicken stock. Again, just enough to cover the rice. Keep stirring! Gradually add two or three more additions of chicken stock, waiting until the bottom of the pan is dry before adding more. You want to give the rice enough time to absorb each batch. Add in batches, just covering the rice each time. Next, add tomato passata. This will begin to flavor the rice and have it take on that color. Continue to stir until the rice is al dente, not mushy, about 8-10 minutes.
Taste your rice for texture and seasoning. Add a bit more stock if the rice is looking dry. Once your rice is cooked, add ½ teaspoon salt. Add shrimp to the skillet. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and half the parmesan cheese. Stir that all together while the shrimp cooks through, 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat off, and add another tablespoon of butter, the rest of the parm, a bit more salt, and a drizzle of high quality olive oil. Stir together to meld all ingredients, about a minute. Taste one final time for seasoning. Plate the risotto on a flat plate, and add burrata in the center, along with another sprinkle of parm. Season the burrata with a bit of salt and olive oil. Add toasted pine nuts and herbs. Tag Chef Pat and Alici and let us know how yours turned out!