Q&A with Craig Richards of La Tavola

ATL Food Chatter: January 18, 2011
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Some permutation of Italian cuisine always seems to make it onto pundits’ annual list of food trends. This year, for example, Joseph Baum and Michael Whiteman, two of the country’s most influential restaurant consultants, put “Old Italian is Newly Respectable” at the top of their list. I checked in with Craig Richards—who trained with Lidia Bastianich executive chef at Virginia-Highland’s La Tavola Trattoria since 2006—on his views of Italian cooking nationally and locally.

Q: What do you attribute to Italian food’s lasting appeal?

CR: Italian food is a classic cuisine that will be around and popular for a long time. It’s popularity is cyclical but it never completely fades away. I think Italian food has really evolved in America and, as the dining public learns more about true regional Italian food, the demand on chefs to execute and source good Italian products goes up. I have felt that pressure myself in the last few years. Plus, everyone likes pasta!
Q: What is the state of Italian cuisine in Atlanta?
CR: I think the state of Italian cuisine in Atlanta is narrow. I have found very few people who truly understand Italian techniques, knowledge of product, and true flavor combinations. Just because you cook with Italian ingredients, doesn’t make it Italian food. But on the other hand, Italian food doesn’t have the heritage in the South like it does in the Northeast. Very few of us, at least in my restaurant, can wax poetic about big family Italian meals.
Q: What is your approach and focus at La Tavola?
CR: My approach with the food at La Tavola is modern, rustic cooking rooted in tradition. I really try to learn about regional traditions before I start to be creative with Italian food. And then there are dishes which I don’t think need to be re-created. Who am I to say that a traditional pasta dish, such as tagliatelle Bolognese, should be changed? Isn’t it my responsibility to try to execute it perfectly every night? I think so. Our kitchen also strives to source the absolute best ingredients we can. This is the basis of Italian cooking and has become one of the pillars of my cooking philosophy.
Q: Where, besides your own restaurant, do you go to eat Italian here in Atlanta?
CR: La Pietra Cucina and Antico Posta.


Jeffrey Gardner, South City Midtown’s sous chef, will be on Food Network’s competition show Chopped on Tuesday, February 8.
The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the U.S Poultry and Egg Association will hold Feather Fest, the annual weeklong culinary competition between Atlanta restaurants to see who can create the best poultry meat-based appetizers and entrees from Jan. 21 to Jan. 27. Atlanta restaurant goers and convention attendees can vote for their picks on the FeatherFest website and be entered to win an iPhone.
Alpharetta. What Now Atlanta reports that Extreme Pita, a Canadian fast-casual sandwich concept, is opening its first Georgia location at Mansell Crossings shopping center. No opening date yet.

Douglasville. Tomorrow’s News Today reports that Mellow Mushroom has closed on Georgia Highway 5.

Downtown. Creative Loafing is reporting that The Greek Gyros and Pizza, inside the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, is closing in February.

Old Fourth Ward. CL also notes that Gekko Sushi has opened in the former Repast spot.

Question of the Week: What is the Chinese restaurant—that is not Peter Chang’s—that has foodies buzzing about its hot-and-numbing Sichuan dishes?

PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What ATL frozen-treats-on-a-stick company offers home delivery three days a week?—is the Pop Shop.