1. How did you end up as a Guest Mentor on The Taste?
Rich and I were asked to be on the show by Anthony Bourdain - who is a close friend of ours. Pretty much the rule with him is if he asks you to do something you say “yes!”2. Each contestant was challenged to make a sandwich. From your experience making sandwiches at Torrisi’s Italian Specialties what are a few of the best flavor combinations that you have come across?
Our favorite flavor combinations for sandwiches are generally the same as those for any entrée - it’s the same principles. One that’s always a winner is taking a rich indulgent product (say beef short rib) and pairing it with something spicy (say your favorite hot sauce) and something cooling (say sour cream). Throw pickles of your choice on there and you have a winner!3. What is your favorite sandwich to make/eat?
We love egg sandwiches of any sort...a couple eggs between great bread and we stop getting picky.4. The Taste is both a team challenge show and an individual challenge show, much like a restaurant. As a team, what process do you go through when deciding the menu at Torrisi’s?
The menu at Torrisi is a special beast. Few restaurants change their menu as frequently as we do. It always starts with the ingredient. Whatever happens to be perfect at that very moment and then the process works backwards from there. Once you’ve determined the ingredient you can then play with inspiration, ethnicity, temperature, technique, etc. It’s always an open forum that includes input from all our cooks, no matter what their seniority is.5. Mario, you have had some incredible mentors, including Mario Batali. What were some of the best lessons you learned from these acclaimed chefs and how did you apply them when mentoring the contestants?
One of the greatest lessons Mario Batali ever taught me as a young cook was, "If you never master the most traditional version of a dish, you can never create a new version with any real foundation of its past." That’s a critical lesson for young, ambitious chefs like the ones on The Taste. When speaking to the contestants during the episode, I tried to get a sense of where they were coming from with their food so I could gauge where they might be headed. It always works best going backwards!