A few months ago, Chris Marchino wasn’t pursuing a career in art. He, like our founder, Paul, was a chef. Then, well, COVID happened. Like many others, Chris made a pivot and pursued a different creative passion.
Prior to moving to San Francisco to work as the Executive Chef at local favorite and well-regarded Cotogna, Chris held the same job at Spiaggia in Chicago, a Michelin award-winning Italian restaurant.
Betera commissioned an exclusive piece from Chris for our Founders Club members. Here, he talks about his career in some incredible restaurants and his new work as an artist.
Aaron: Should we do this?
Chris Marchino: Let’s.
Aaron: How’s the move going?
Chris Marchino: Last couple of days were hectic as hell. Looking forward to getting the art studio set up too. Super psyched to have dedicated space
Aaron: I know you got kind of thrown into it, but when did you make the decision to pursue art full time?
Chris Marchino: I always viewed my art as a hobby, not a profession. Every time I began to focus on it heavily it started to feel like work, and I never wanted it to feel that way. For some reason, this go around has been different.
Aaron: When you were cooking, was it something you returned to much?
Chris Marchino: When I had down time it was the first thing I turned to. For example I had an Achilles injury last year and couldn’t work for a couple of weeks so I spent most of that time working on my art. However, the chef profession doesn’t typically allow for much downtime, and the little bit you do get is usually spent decompressing from work.
Aaron: Yeah. Feels so cool to be able to transition from a project for “them” to one that’s our own.
How’d you get into cooking in the first place?
Chris Marchino: Absolutely.
I was always paying attention to my parents cooking at home at a pretty young age. Then I took up some cooking jobs as a teenager for extra cash. Making hoagies, cheesesteaks, etc. Never thought of it as a career until some buddies were opening a pizza shop in Charleston, SC called D’Allesandro’s Pizza. They asked my older brother and me to move down there and help them out.
Aaron: Oh man. That must have been awesome. In from the beginning
Chris Marchino: It really was. And I was maybe only 22 with limited experience in professional kitchens or managing a business. We were flying by the seats of our pants
Aaron: Then you go to culinary school?
Chris Marchino: Yep, moved to Chicago, to get some formal training.
Aaron: What was that like? Big leagues or did the experience in SC prep you for it?
Chris Marchino: Culinary school taught me the formal terms and techniques. It gave me a language to use in the kitchen.
Then my first major cooking job was at Spiaggia in Chicago, where I spent the next 8 years.
Aaron: I saw that. Legit. Can’t imagine.
Chris Marchino: Spiaggia has a one a Michelin Star dining room. Regionally inspired Italian with modern technique. Then there’s the less formal cafe which is driven more by classics and comfort Italian cuisine.
But almost none of the “Red Sauce Joint” approach. We stayed very true to food you’d actually find in Italy, not in North Jersey! 😂
Aaron: So what’s your first job there?
None of the family recipes working there
Chris Marchino: Only if they were Tony (Mantuano’s) family recipes. He was my mentor and chef/owner of the restaurant. Those were allowed.
First job was as a line cook in the private dining kitchen.
Aaron: How do you go up in the ranks at a place like that?
Chris Marchino: You have to just put your head down and work, stay focused, always be on time. Mess up as little as possible. If you’re getting attention and getting noticed, it’s a bad thing.
Aaron: Be off the radar
Chris Marchino: Exactly.
Aaron: You ended up Exec Chef at Spiaggia, yeah?
Chris Marchino: Yes, moved up to sous chef, exec sous, chef de cuisine and finally exec chef for 2 years. Ran the whole gambit
Aaron: Amazing, man. What’s a leadership lesson you took away from that experience?
Chris Marchino: To be completely honest, it was really hard. The restaurant was very successful and we accomplished great things, but I never actually felt like I knew exactly what I was doing. I figured out that one of the best things you can do as a leader is embrace your mistakes and share them with your team.
You earn their respect by showing them that you’re human. And everyone learns from it.
Aaron: right. Humility and vulnerability. Being human.
Chris Marchino: Precisely.
Aaron: Just try not to make the same mistake 11 times
Can’t remember which one
Chris Marchino: Yea, and if more people are looking out for it, you’re more likely to spot it before you make the mistake. You don’t have to do it by yourself.
Aaron: right. Buy-in is huge
Chris Marchino: I got your back you got mine kinda thing.
Aaron: How’d the move to SF come about?
Chris Marchino: I was contacted by Michael Tusk (Quince & Cotogna in SF). He was looking for a Chef for Cotogna. Always loved his restaurants as well as SF/Bay Area.
Aaron: It’s one of my favorite spots in the city
Chris Marchino: Nice! Spent 2 years there.
Amazing first spot to land in SF
Aaron: The ravioli there. cmon.
How was SF different from Chicago?
Chris Marchino: I was immediately thrust into the farm/market scene in the Bay Area. Incredible friendships and connections that I value to this day.
Well, for starters, I’m a warm weather creature, so 12 months of spring/fall weather was amazing for me. From a cooking perspective though, the sheer variety of produce that I had never had access to in Chicago floored me.
Aaron: I forget sometimes how good the produce is here. Traveling reminds me of it...
Chris Marchino: In this area people know and demand extremely high quality produce. It’s how people in Chicago are about meat.
Aaron: OK. Now I’m gonna pick your brain
Chris Marchino: Go
Aaron: Best everyday olive oil?
Chris Marchino: Tenbrink Farm (Suisun Valley, CA)
Aaron: Red sauce. Best canned tomatoes?
Chris Marchino: Biancho diNapoli, San Marzano tomatoes
Whole peeled in juice is the way to go
Aaron: Best bakery in Bay Area?
Chris Marchino: For bread I go Della Fattoria, for pastries and the like B. Patisserie
Aaron: Oh man. That bakery is so good
The rosemary and lemon round!
Chris Marchino: Oh you know.
Just finished a loaf.
Aaron: When we were looking at illustrators for the brand, there was this really interesting range of botanical illustrators.
It’s a craft that’s been around forever, so there’s this massive range of interpretation and tools
Chris Marchino: Absolutely. It’s really interesting to see how different artists approach similar subjects in nature. And they’re all really beautiful in their own right.
Makes you think about how the variety of interpretations is a little glimpse into how we all see the rest of the world from such different perspectives.
Aaron: Your piece for us. Walk us through that a little bit
Chris Marchino: Well, we started with the idea of a seasonality poster. From there, it only seemed appropriate to take an unconventional approach.
I was taking tons of walks around Sausalito.
Every day I’d pass dozens of edible plants and fruits.
It’s almost like walking through a real life seasonality poster
Aaron: Right. You were in the middle of it.
Chris Marchino: Exactly, just look around and take it in.
So the piece really became a seasonal representation of wild growing edible plants in Marin.
I had to sneak some birds in. That said, late spring into summer is a very important time for birds. For most birds it’s their nesting season. Which means there is tons of activity, there more vocal, more protective, more everything. So birds very natural folded into the mix
Aaron: So, kid on the way. Just moved to Napa. New career path. Anything else you’re gonna try for the first time this year?
Chris Marchino: Yes, baby boy due in January. New career path. With all of the other turbulence in the world, I think I’ll try to keep the rest of life simple. Maybe I’ll raise some chickens?!
Aaron: hahah. You had to add something else
We’re lucky to have the chance to work with you.
Chris Marchino: I’m happy you guys liked it. It’s a great feeling to be able to do something that comes to you very organically and just run wild with it, then have it enjoyed and appreciated by others.