Connecticut Chef and Restaurateur, George Pastorok, has earned a great reputation in the Nutmeg state for offering mouth-watering offerings at reasonable prices over the years with in smaller towns where great restaurants are hard to come by. His most popular restaurant operation was a high-end steakhouse out of Newtown, CT called G.P. Cheffields. Though the very successful steakhouse has been closed for quite sometime as George Pastorok left the foodservice industry to focus on his insurance business, he still had a passion to get back into the foodservice industry. George partnered with his brother Gregory to open a new pizza establishment called GG’s Wood Fire Pizza.
What or who inspired you to become a chef, any culinary training?
I had many sources of inspiration that led me to become a chef, well the obvious answer coming from an Italian family, my mom and grandmother, but there are more influences such as, Pacelli’s Bakery or Frances Pastry Shoppe, going to Sorrento’s Market and Venetian Gardens, or into a basement of a home that was converted into a small restaurant where Nonna’s and Zia’s would be making macaroni, sauce, tying and frying braciole, pressing pizzelle’s.
There I found people to be so happy, and never did I encounter someone that was cooking not to be in a good mood and it was obvious they loved what they were doing.
My love and passion for food came from working alongside my grandmother, her sisters and my mother, helping roll pasta, stuff and cut ravioli, rolling meatballs, and frosting cookies. This led me to Johnson and Wales in Providence R.I, where I studied Culinary Arts and Business. Back in the 70’s and 80’s JW was not only teaching you how to cook, but how to run a business. They were not looking to compete with the other schools that pumped out chefs with no idea how to run a kitchen.
After closing G.P. Cheffields and leaving the food industry for some time, what brought you back?
After selling G.P. Cheffields to the Vazzano’s in 2003, I went on to sell food for Dairyland The Chef’s Warehouse for a couple of years. This education on the road opened my eyes to many different styles of restaurants; in my travels I saw the true business side of running a restaurant. I absorbed all the management styles and buying procedures from some of the great restaurant owners in CT. So when I made my mind up that I was going back to the food industry I pulled on all the resources I had obtained during my stint at Dairyland and worked on a concept that I knew would make both me happy cooking and be economically prosperous in today’s marketplace.
Why a pizza establishment so close to the ever popular New Haven Style pizza locations rather than another upscale restaurant?
Opening a Pizza parlor, I love that phrase, just reminds me of going to the old Jennies on Grant St. or Jerry’s Pizza in Bridgeport CT. When my brother Gregory and I decided we were going to do a Pizza Parlor so close to two of the most famous pizza parlors in the country, we weren’t worried but the people around us were.
I felt that if we could make our pizza with the same passion from our high end dining establishments, and use the best ingredients available we could be successful wherever we opened.
You’re using a Mugnaini 160 oven imported from Italy? How was the decision made over some of the other popular ovens in the market?
Using the Mugnaini oven from Italy was a great choice of oven for us. We had looked at others but kept coming back to the Mugnaini. My first encounter was when my friend Gianni Strano from Brewster NY had one installed at his home. It made delicious pizzas and when we made our way to Mario Batali’s Tarrytown location and the Westport spot we knew we had found our oven. At that point we realized we could bake the style of pizza we wanted to make in the Mugnaini.
In your opinion, is there a difference in using wood or coal as a heat source for your oven?
Using wood has made a difference in our pizza that you can’t get using a coal-fired oven. The high heat and flame results in a charring of the dough that imparts the flavor of the seasoned oven floor and the wood we burn. The double fermentation process we use to make our dough allows the dough to fully cook in the short amount of time it spends in the oven. This process makes our pizza more digestible and does not leave you with that feeling of stuffiness after polishing off a pie by yourself!
Your main focus is pizza, any other menu items?
Our main focus is pizza; it truly is the star of GG’s. We have also developed a wood-fired chicken wing that is delicious and already has its own following of wing connoisseurs. Our wings bring back memories when we all ate chicken with the skin on.
The oven chars and crisps the wings and gives them an off the grill taste, but does it in minutes as we put them directly over the burning wood. We also have beautiful salads, all of which can be ordered family style for the table. The same goes for our pasta dishes.
My fourteen-year-old daughter Belle makes our cavatelli, which she learned to make beside my mom. All our desserts are made here at the restaurant. We have a great Italian cookie plate, a bungalow cake inspired by one of my mentors Dominic Picarazzi of Frances bakery, and also make the sorbets and plan on having Italian Ice for the summer months. We also have a great local source; Bucks Ice Cream here in Milford for salted caramel and vanilla bean ice cream.
You play a key role in marketing the restaurant. What are some of those responsibilities and how important are they for running a successful restaurant? Using Groupon, Facebook, etc.?
My brother Gregory has really opened my eyes to the value of social networking and the Internet to market our establishment.
Right now we are relying on a lot of word of mouth to spread the word of our opening, but we also use Facebook and Twitter to talk about specials we have or upcoming events. We would like to have our website be a place where people can find out about upcoming events, as well as be interactive and a place where we can all chat about what’s going on. We are also marketing the restaurant through our local presence with school groups and sports teams.
What are a few of your most essential ingredients for a great pie? Where are you sourcing your ingredients?
Our pizza ingredients are fresh and simple. We use San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, imported Buffalo mozzarella as well as our own fresh mozzarella. We also make our own sausage and use a pepperoni made in Seattle that we slice ourselves.
We use the Mugnaini oven to wood fire the onions, peppers, tomatoes and vegetables we use as toppings. Our clams come in daily right off a boat that goes out of Devon CT. The time we spent over the years in fine dining has taught us using the highest quality ingredients and treating food with respect will yield a great product.
Our idol Dominic Demarco of Di Fara’s in Brooklyn extols this philosophy as you watch him make each pie, hand grating the Grana Padano, tearing at the buffalo mozzarella and clipping the fresh basil as his pizza leaves the oven. I use Dairyland- The Chefs Warehouse as my lead purveyor, and my salesperson Tim Mullen is an ex-chef who always points us in the right direction when choosing a product for the menu.
Work with any local CT consultants and dealers for seating, kitchen equipment and installation?
Since coming back to CT in 1986 and opening our first CT restaurant we have developed some great relationships within the food industry.
So when I decided to jump back in this time, we had a readily available stream of purveyors, printers, architects, and construction guys we have used in the past. We have had a relationship with Warehouse Store Fixtures in Waterbury since 1986 when I dealt with Oscar Silverman, a man of great integrity who has since passed.
His son’s David and Roy have taken up his passion and compassion for their clients, and David helped us in the early design stages and supplied us with all of our kitchen equipment. Creative Wholesale Meat in Fairfield CT owner John Cuddy has been with us since 1996, John’s knowledge of the wholesale meat industry is second to none.
The restaurant industry has a broad range of foods, what’s your buying approach?
All of our relationships over the years have made buying an easy task. You still will need to know the market and have multiple purveyors for items that define your menu to keep everybody on their toes. I always try to buy the best quality ingredients for the restaurant, and not all are the same, for example you can buy hundreds of great extra virgin olive oils from all over the world, but if I need one to dance a peppery dance on your tongue, I will find the right one.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest changes you’ve seen in the restaurant/pizza industry whether good, bad or both?
One of the big changes I have seen since I came back to the biz is the availability of produce items that were once specialty items. Ten years ago to get baby arugula you had to order days in advance.
Prices still knock me off my feet and during the last ten years in the private sector I would shake every time I had to buy meat, fish and liquor at retail prices and I still do when checking invoices. Food is very expensive and as a chef and owner you must be very careful how you utilize your ingredients to be most cost effective and at the same time please your diner by giving a perceived value.
I believe that some of the changes in restaurants in CT have been for the good; places like Plan B have raised the expectations in food quality and service in so called chain restaurants and I see that many of the big chains are following suit in raising their quality.
As for the pizza industry the chains will always affect the marketplace and set the price bar. Patrons will always have their “go to” place and this is where GG’s Wood Fired Pizza would like to fit in. As we plan to grow, develop our menu, add locations we want to be that neighborhoods “go to” place. A place where consistency is key, all around in the high quality of the food, atmosphere, value and the friendliness we pride ourselves on.
Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see GG’s in 5 years?
“I don't know what my title or where GG’s will be in five years. The goal is to be three deep by the end of 2016, but I'd love to think I'll still be grinding it out in the kitchen to please the public, taking on responsibility and continuing to learn, to teach and to contribute to the success of our employees.”