You know how it seems like all of a sudden the chefs from fancy, fine-dining restaurants are leaving their high-pressure, high-performance kitchens to start small, casual ventures, trucks, sandwich shops. It's a new trend, right? Well, no.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Franks—Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli—proprietors of Frankies 457 Spuntino in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. They opened the Spuntino back in 2004, after they both had 15-year careers in fine-dining restaurants, including stints in France working for Paul Bocuse (Castronovo) and Maxim's (Falcinelli) and long runs in celebrated stateside restaurants. A chance meeting reunited the childhood friends, who both grew up in Italian families in Queens. And a chancey venture–opening a joint that served Italian-American food, like their grandmas made, like they grew up eating—paid off. They've since gone on to open Frankies 17 Spuntino, in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Prime Meats, which serves homestyle German food, a catering company, two cafes (with coffee guru Duane Sorenson of Stumptown), and a general store. Another New York restaurant is in the works. But the reason the Franks were in town was to promote their new book, The Frankies Spuntion Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual, a darling little book with gilded edges and illustrations, few color photographs, and a whole lot of personality. It's look is so unlike other cookbooks that it's not surprising to learn that the printing was done in America by a Bible company. Castronovo and Falcinelli were in town for 48 hours, and I got a chance to chat with them.
Tell me about the book, which doesn't look at all like a cookbook.
FC: We wanted the book to look like books made in the late 1800s, early 1900s. When people paid attention to detail, craftsmanship. We wanted it to look the way Frankies looked, so there wasn't a disconnect between the restaurant and the book.
FF: Those old books had to really describe things, they couldn't rely on photographs. The illustrations were important. Those old manuals are really, really useful and the format is attractive. We made a fucking book, man!
You now have a whole bunch of restaurants—but the cookbook focuses on your first, Frankies 457.
FF: Well, it was our first child. And it offered us a lot of opportunities. It delivered us a bright future and gave us an option other than being stressed restaurateurs.
FC: We did that. For nearly 20 years. The due level now, for cooks, is about three years. They work as a cook for three years and they think they've paid their dues.
Do you worry about the next generation of cooks, who won't be trained in a formal French kitchen?
FF: Well, the new generation—some are amazing, some are spazzes, some will be the new Frankies. It'll shake out.
You seem to have a lot of celebrity friends—Chris Robinson (of the Black Crows) spinning records at your restaurant birthday parties, Spike Jonze blurbing your book ...
FC: Everyone likes to eat good food. And in Brooklyn they don't get hassled. No one gawks.
FF: There are a lot of cool, interesting people in New York. You hang out in Arkansas, maybe it's coal miners. You hang out in Brooklyn, maybe it's artists and actors and musicians. No offense to Arkansas, but you know what I mean. The concentration.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
FF: The Sunday Sauce. It's a full day of cooking—the meats, the sauce—but man, man! It's worth it. You might spend $100, but you're going to get some sick leftovers. And also, it makes happy, happy memories.
So the recipes in the cookbook can really be made by home cooks?
FF: This book is a solid document. If the recipes don't work you look like an asshole.
FC: It's the go-to guide for Italian. Give it to your kids. Give it to your friends when they get married.
FC: Maybe we'll make a movie. Copponovo and Scorsenelli. No, it's something in New York. Another restaurant. That's all we'll say.
And where else are you going in your 48 hours in San Francisco?
FC: We're gonna go see Mangieri [Anthony, of Una Pizza Napoletana]. I just want to go there, give a fist bump and eat a slice.
FF: Then we're going to Coi.
Prepare for Doug Fir.
FF: I don't even know what you're talking about. Doug Fir? Our coauthor, Peter [Meehan, who writes a column for the Times and coauthored the Momofuku cookbook] says that Daniel Patterson's the shit.
Want more Franks? Paolo over at the Chronicle also talked to the gentlemen while they were in town. Check it out here.