As the second restaurant in chef-restaurateur Frank Bonanno’s prolific empire, Luca has been a standby for heartfelt Italian and stellar service for years. But things are always changing at Luca—and that’s a good thing, according to executive chef Eric Cimino. He and his team are constantly elevating the house-made pastas, breads, cheeses, and meats, not to mention mastering the newest addition to the kitchen, a wood-fired grill. The chef’s tasting menu is (for now) a thing of the past, and the restaurant has, as of this month, added a happy hour (which means you can nab the burrata and pastas like pappardelle Bolognese and wild mushroom fusilli for just $6). And according to Cimino, it’s not just his food that’s in a constant state of progression, but also his role as a chef. Here, Cimino discusses how he executes Luca’s rustic cuisine in the modern age of food allergies.
5280: Dietary restrictions, food intolerances, and allergies are more and more prevalent. What’s your approach to dealing with them as a chef?
EC: I try and be very flexible when it comes to allergies. I take them very seriously, but I kind of have a hard time with fad diets—I think some of them give people with allergies a bad rep. I have more and more and more gluten-free people come in. We usually have some sort of gluten-free pasta on hand. I’ve been working hard to make my own, but it’s difficult in this environment where everything has already touched flour. When I can, I make my own flour blend, and it’s got brown and white rice flour, cornstarch, milk solids, tapioca starch…. It’s the kind of stuff that needs a lot of tweaking to make it actually taste like pasta. But my wife is gluten intolerant, so I definitely pay attention to it.
I’d like people to be as educated as they can about their own allergies to help us. Just be up front about it, it’s not something to be scared of. You should be more afraid if you’re not telling everybody, because I can’t list all the ingredients in a dish on the menu. Tell your server, let someone know. Or even better, when you’re making a reservation, let someone know then—I’ll take the time to make special things. If you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, I’ll make sure I’ve got things readily available. It’s definitely harder when somebody shows up and fires off, I’ve got allergies to this, this, this, and this.