Mickey Priolo had a day off from his job behind the wheel of a moving truck in Dallas, Texas. So naturally he penned an essay on the importance of cooking well for a contest being run by Ecco, a Harper Collins imprint, to promote Anthony Bourdain’s book, Medium Raw. He e-mailed his entry and quickly forgot about it over the long hours hauling boxes until his phone rang several months later.
“I got a call from Harper Collins. They told me, ‘Tony loved your essay. Come to New York,” Priolo says. “It was about coming home to a home cooked meal after a long’s day work and how good, home cooked food is an act of love.”
The essay ran in the paperback version of Medium Raw and Priolo, 32, left New York with the $10,000 prize and a new vision of what his life could be.
“When Anthony Bourdain described his kitchen crew as pirates in Kitchen Confidential, I really always thought about movers in the same way,” Priolo says. “So, then I started thinking maybe I can make it in the kitchen.”
He moved back to Kansas City two and a half years ago, to find his kitchen legs. He worked for two months at the now-shuttered Simply Breakfast (where Blanc Burgers & Bottles is relocating to from the Plaza) and then took a turn on the line at the Hilton President.
Priolo, who was born at St. Luke’s Hospital, had been in kitchens as a teenager, cooking pizzas at Leo’s Pizza in Overland Park, Kansas, and Funhouse Pizza in Raytown, Missouri.
“I needed a job and I enjoyed the work,” Priolo says. “But I never understood that this was a career. I never understood that chefs existed because we never had the money to go out and eat.”
He took a position as a sous chef at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art alongside his neighbor, Rick Mullins (now a chef at Gram & Dun). The two jointly ran the Friday night dinner service for six months without an executive chef to oversee them. Their conversations about food and techniques led to a Test Kitchen dinner and a series of pop-ups at Czar Bar and the Mod Gallery.
“I like it when it’s busy,” Priolo says. “I think it helps coming in as a grown person. I’ve always been able to handle a lot of tickets and be calm. There’s only one speed you can go.”
Priolo next manned the meat station at Bluestem for three months before landing the executive chef position at The Corner Restaurant (4059 Broadway) last November. He now lives and works in Westport, walking by the Mills Record Company (314 Westport Road), where another of his passions is on display.
“I put out a beat tape on the Internet and it got downloaded a few thousand times,” Priolo says. “Three years ago, this group from New York, DXA, asked me to produce their record and they put “DXA vs. The Rhythmmonster” on vinyl.”
So you can sample Priolo’s beets and beats just a few doors down from each other.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Priolo says. “That’s pretty cool.”
He will take the stage at The Riot Room as part of the trio GFC (Grand Flow Classics) on Sunday, February 16. He’s also bringing back dinner at The Corner Restaurant on Thursday, January 30. Priolo has put together a five-course wine dinner pairing pork shoulder, avocado peanut bisque and black cherry bourbon flan with A. Bommarito Wines out of St. Louis, Missouri. The dinner is $75 per person.
The Recommended Daily sat down with Priolo last week to find out more about his road to becoming a chef.
How do you approach a new dish? I don’t really sit down and think about dishes. Something pops up in my head and starts to flesh itself out over the course of maybe a couple of days. It’s like writing music. It just starts coming together one element at a time. It’s typically an ingredient or a technique, a little idea, and I just start going down that path.
You didn’t attend culinary school. What would you tell somebody who is attempting to learn on the job? Get ready for an awesome journey. I’m not musically trained either. I like not having rules. It gives me an open perspective on things. I’m not locked into any style. I can be creative. Since I have no training, everything could be training.
How would you describe your style as an executive chef? I think my management style is to build people up. I want to create decision makers. No matter what’s going on in my life, the commercial kitchen is the calmest place in my life. The kitchen is where I’m most comfortable and everything else disappears because it’s just about the food.
What’s one food you love? I love fattening food. I love pizza. I love grease. Give me cured meat. I can never have enough cured meet.
What’s one food you hate? There’s nothing I hate. I have no food allergies. Even growing up, I don’t think there was anything I wouldn’t eat. Every Sunday, we’d have lasagna or manicotti or chicken casserole.
What’s your favorite BBQ in Kansas City? I love [Oklahoma Joe’s] Z-man sandwich. Cheese and onion rings. It’s stupid and exactly how I eat. I put fries on sandwiches. But I call it in, I’m not waiting on that line.
Westport’s your neighborhood. How have you seen it change in the past few years? I gave up my car six months ago because I can walk to work. I think Westport is getting to be known for drinking and eating. Westport will always be a drinking spot, but I like that every restaurant in Westport has its own niche.
What are you experimenting with? We’re so focused on brunch. I think our biscuits and gravy are the best in town. We use a whole hog sausage and make a fatty ass roux with a lot of butter. We make super fluffy buttermilk biscuits and I think we give out great portions. It’s a delicious comforting breakfast.
The next menu will be the first one where I’m putting my own spin. There’s a spicy sausage sandwich with pecorino cheese, kale sautéed in bacon fat and a miso mustard. There’s also a duck hash with duck confit, fermented pears, raisins, nutmeg and cinnamon. That comes with a mint and jalapeno gremolata and a blood orange honey. There’s a lot of flavors hitting you in the face.
What’s next for you? I may change pace entirely. I just got my Italian citizenship. I got a letter from a cousin in Italy. I didn’t even know we were related. He told me to come visit. I may go to a small town, maybe Calabria. I’d like to learn Italian cooking. I want to get into cheese making and sausage curing. I’d love to get into traditional techniques, pick natural herbs and further my understanding of the land. It’s exciting. I never want to get into a situation where I feel content. I always want to be slightly uncomfortable and pushing myself.[Sausage sandwich image via Facebook: Mickey Priolo and Mills Record Co. image via Facebook: Mills Record Company]