I had a chance to ask CAMPO owner Mark Estee a few questions about his new restaurant opening on the riverfront in the Palladio located downtown. I can't tell you how excited I am about this place opening, and it will bring yet another totally unique dining experience downtown. And check out the fact sheet to the right which gives you everything from the phone number to sous chef.
What drove you to select downtown Reno as the location of Campo, as opposed to outlying areas like the Northwest or in south Reno?
Estee: When I decided a few years ago that I wanted to try and do a restaurant in Reno, I started asking around and looking around for the best spot. I looked high and low. My wife and I decided we wanted to raise our family here and bought a house in Somerset. I really love the downtown setting and urban feel to the area. The space that is now Campo was the only spot in all of Reno that met my ideal criteria…..central location, access to parking, new space that we could build what we wanted and of course an amazing patio space. I think all areas of Reno have something to offer and downtown is perfect for the campo concept.
The buzz is that you are certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an entity able to give special designation to pizzerias who meet strict requirements that respect the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making. To non-foodies who just love a good pizza, what does this mean?
Estee: It is complicated and simple at the same time. the VPN means that we will make our pizza in the traditional Naples style. the oven, the making of the dough, the preparation of the pizza and the cooking of the pizza are the main parts that we are trained in. there are many, many nuances and protocol to follow inside of the areas that we must follow to produce a VPN pizza. we are committed to doing our pizza this way. the VPN certification guratentees that if you like VPN pizza, we are serving the method of the product as they have been doing since 1660.
I'm hearing you will be utilizing the whole hog philosophy as opposed to just ordering cuts of meat from a distributor. Is it Berkshire swine, is the source local? What benefits does this philosophy provide to Campo patrons? Can you explain this philosophy and what it means to you personally?
Estee: We get our hogs from many sources. they must be all natural and raised in a humane way. we have a great relationship with Paul Willis, the founder of Niman Ranch Pork. I have raised my own pigs a few times and we just recently met a farmer from Fallon (also an electrician on the job here) who is raising some hogs for us now. we will source by word of mouth and thru the great basin food coop. the breeds are sometimes different, depending on the farm, the farmer and the conditions of the area the animals are raised in. that is the beauty of working like this….you never get the same animal. Berkshire are a great breed but there are many many more out there to taste also. the benefits of this is that our chefs and patrons are doing the animal justice. by using the entire animal we are honoring the pig as more than just a tenderloin and some chops. the customers will see many more interesting cuts and uses for the entire animal. I have always had offal, feet, different cuts on my menus. this will play a huge part in our pasta sauces and salumi program. this to me personally is HUGE. 8 years ago I was invited to Iowa by Niman ranch to cook for the their pigs farmers. we toured some factory farms and then the niman farms. I met the people, saw the pork, felt their passion and decided this is the way to go. We use this "philosophy" in all we do….with vegetable, chickens, dough's, etc…….rustic cooking is using what is whatever is fresh and available.
I hear you'll be joining the ranks of Old Granite Street Eatery and 4th Street Bistro in procuring your raw ingredients locally. Has this been a challenge to set up and what's your opinion on why more local restaurants don't seize this opportunity, particularly with some of the health scares happening with mass-distributed food?
Estee: I have been doing this for the last 11 years. I staged at Chez Panise and Alice Waters asked me about where I got my food up here in Tahoe/Reno. I told her about all these excuses and she said "Why Not?" from that moment I have always sourced and gone after as much local produce/product as possible. challenges, schmallanges….if you want it, you got to take the time to find it and use it properly. we change our menu daily, so that puts us in control of using what the farmer have. there are other restaurants that procure locally and that is awesome, the more the better, it is a ton more work to cook like this but the rewards are endless both as operator and consumer. People in Reno care and I know that and I see that, so that was a huge reason of us opening up campo here.
What are some of the highlights to the Neapolitan pizza making process? Does the certification only cover pizzas or does it extend to everything you serve in the restaurant?
Estee: VPN is pizza specific, but it is a natural match for the rustic cuisine we will be serving here. the biggest highlight I see it that to follow the protocol and produce a consistent product that is so artisanal, each one has its own story to tell. when I ate my first VPN is was a religious moment. My wife too, we both looked at each and said, "yes", we must do this in Reno.
What types of food in addition to the pizzas will you be serving?
Estee: Whatever is fresh and available……homemade pasta, organic vegetables, salumi, fish, steaks, poultry, but done in a way that we cook with love and passion. using this rustic cuisine and Italian sensibility we will be able express the quality of products and the care we take with them.
What are some of the highlights of the restaurant itself? Any particular decor or theme you are following?
Estee: Neighborhood feel, a place you can visit at 8am for an espresso or a place to come to after work, or on a date…..a few times a week is what we are hoping. there are some really neat beams and little nooks if you will at campo. we have seating options and areas that should add to the feel and décor.