Il Mulino’s Mazza Sets Sight On 35th Anniversary Of Iconic Manhattan Brand
Mazza’s challenge and gift is the ability to interpret one of New York’s truly iconic menus to a vast array of locations. From Las Vegas and Miami in the US to Tokyo and Dubai, Il Mulino outposts have turned the company into a far-flung worldwide concern.
Among, Mazza’s most recent projects was a trip to Macau. “We just opened a licensed restaurant in a new casino. It was a fascinating project that required the chef to come and work with us in New York for six months. I then joined him there for a couple of months to make sure that we got off to a good start.
Mazza’s story began in his hometown of Sorrento, Italy. When I was 15 I knew I wanted to follow the steps to deepen my “technique and knowledge, so I did 3 years of culinary school in Italy. After school I worked on a prestigious Italian coastal liner for ten years, doing 130 day cruises around the world. This was a very enriching experience, it enhanced my cooking skills with different recipes and variants to cook with.”
He launched his stateside career in 1980 when he moved to the US and opened a couple of restaurants of his own. When Il Mulino’s management came to eat at his Long Island restaurant Classico Risorante, the rest as they say is history. For the past two decades, Mazza has been entrusted to replicate his passion in Il Mulino kitchens in New York and around the world.
Brothers Fernando and Gino Masci created Il Mulino with the idea that they wanted diners to be transported into an atmosphere much like that of their hometown Abruzzo, Italy on the Adriatic Coast, one of Italy’s most fertile regions. Chef Mazza shares the founders’ philosophy of using the best ingredients and beautifully preparing dishes for guests to enjoy.
Mazza’s earthy Italian food is what keeps people coming back. From antipasti to dolci, a traditional menu has brought top life through Mazza’s vision and passion. His approach is to honor the cuisine of Sorrento and to that end he says he imports 95 percent of Il Mulino’s ingredients from Italy.
Il Mulino’s most popular dish is the homemade ravioli with black truffles and creamy champagne sauce. “My goal is to make sure that all of our locations prepare it the same way,” Mazza noted. “At the same time Mazza and his Il Mulino team have an understanding of a customer base whose tastes and priorities have evolved. We are very flexible and that’s the way I train chefs at each location. We are here to please the customer. We do a lot of gluten-free and vegan dishes that include vegan meatballs with eggplants and have become very popular.”
The brilliance of Mazza lies in his ability to continue to listen to and react to the changes of the Il Mulino customer. “There’s no question that our diners are committed to a healthier lifestyle,” Mazza noted. “So we cook with more olive oil and less salt and butter than we did in the past.”
With Il Mulino’s Prime steak concept under his command, Mazza’a approach to meat is well centered. “I’m convinced that a beef in moderation belongs on a diet. So what we’ve done is find grass-fed organic beef that maximizes taste and our customers’ desires to be as healthy as possible.”
As the company gets ready for its 35th anniversary, Mazza is hard at work on a yearlong celebration to be highlighted by special menus. “We want to bring back many of the legendary dishes that have been such an important part of our success. We will also create some new organic favorites to match with some of our special wines.”
That vision to learn from the past and move into the future is a key element of the Mazza gift. “Of course I am concerned about the new $15 minimum wage and what happens with tipping. We need to have employees that are happy so that they can take care of our customers every day,” Mazza said. “I also know that many of our younger diners are concerned with issues like how animals are treated, so we work diligently to find farms that are focused on humane treatment.”
To accomplish the goal of consistently delivering Il Mulino’s signature dining experience Mazza keeps it simple. “I don’t listen to music,” he said, “I don’t like too much talk in the kitchen. I just concentrate on the food. I’m very focused.”