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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

March 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Jazzman John Pizzarelli really cooks, on stage and off

Musicians and music lovers have a lot to thank Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley for, but John Pizzarelli mostly appreciates the Seattle apartment the club provides performers, equipped with the kitchen where he first got inspired to cook.

A kitchen means a lot to a guy who spends 150 days on the road each year.

Pizzarelli isn’t playing the Alley this time around, though fans see him there often. This week, the New York-based jazz vocalist and guitarist will be “cooking” at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, where he’ll perform Thursday.

As artistic director of the three-day DeMiero Jazz Fest, he’ll also host fellow greats Freddy Cole and Karrin Allyson along with local luminaries like Greta Matassa (ticket info here). With his quartet — including his bassist and brother Martin Pizzarelli — he’ll spend his days at student workshops.

Unfortunately, he won’t have a kitchen to cook in, though he hopes to find time to visit some of his favorite restaurants: Cafe Juanita, Palace Kitchen and Salumi — the Batali family’s Pioneer Square sandwich shop.

Weaned on Italian food, Pizzarelli was inspired to cook not by his mother (who’s since taught him to make a mean eggplant Parmesan), but by Federal Way homeboy Molto Mario. “I’m a cover band for Mario Batali,” said Pizzarelli, known to whip out the chef’s “Babbo Cookbook” and whip up multicourse pasta meals for family and friends.

Ask Pizzarelli to name that tune and he’ll tell you: “A fella’s really got to eat, and a fella should eat right. Five will get you ten, I’m gonna feed myself right tonight.”

I’m a longtime Pizzarelli fan. But who knew the crooner-turned-cook was a fan of mine? Not too long ago I picked up this e-mail from Piz: “OK. Pasta tasting for eight friends. Sunday 6 p.m. What do I serve: black pepper tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta to start? A ravioli and pappardelle Bolognese? What thinks you?”

I think he should come-on-a-my house and cook dinner. Instead, I settled for a phoner from his New York country cabin, where he shares a kitchen with his wife, singer Jessica Molasky. “She cooks the comfort food. I do the crazy stuff.”

Leson: So, do you have a fancy-pants kitchen?

Pizzarelli: At home in the city you can almost have three people in it at the same time and actually have a conversation without saying, “Can you move, please!” Here at the cabin, the kitchen’s tiny, but I love it. We have a 30-inch stove, but when the next record goes over the top, I’m hoping to get a Viking.

NL: When I’m cooking, I listen to you. When you’re cooking, what’s playing?

JP: Benny Goodman from the White House — from a tape I converted to a CD. It’s from when Reagan was president. My father [legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli] worked the gig. King Hussein was there, and he was a big fan of Buddy Rich, so they got Buddy to play drums.

NL: When you perform, you interpret Irving Berlin, Antonio Carlos Jobim and my favorite — Springsteen croaking “I Like Jersey Best.” But when you’re wearing an apron instead of a guitar, what’s your standard repertoire?

JP: I can make and freeze three or four pastas — from tortelloni to tagliatelle — in a few hours. It’s part of my meditation. I can do it boom, boom, boom, which is different than putting out a plate of ziti and chicken parm, though I can do that, too.

NL: You’ve got pizza in your name. Ever make it at home?

JP: We’ve got this Rolls-Royce Weber. We put a pizza stone on the grill, then close it; you can get it cranking up to 600-700 degrees and get it killing in there!

NL: Your favorite cooking implement? And what, besides that Viking, is on your wish list?

JP: Can’t live without my pasta strainer. Wish list: a chitarra — the guitar-shaped pasta cutter.

NL: OK: Best food lyric?

JP: There’s always the Frim Fram song, but I wrote one called “Headed out to Vera’s” — my father’s sister. The gist of it is, “If you’re headed out to Vera’s make sure she cooks for you.” Aunt Vera can cook for 50 people and still say, “We’ve got plenty left hee-ah! Who needs?”

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