8:59pm | February 19, 2014

Q&A with Chef Matt Accarrino of SPQR in San Francisco

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Born in St. Louis and raised in New Jersey, Chef Matthew Accarrino began his cooking career in New York City before moving west to California. Matthew trained with both star chefs and grandmothers in Italy. Throughout his career, he has worked alongside some of America’s best chefs including Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio and Rick Moonen. Like Chef Chiarello, he also is an avid cyclist and is training hard for the Bottega Gran Fondo.

Before you became a chef you wanted to be a professional cyclist but had to give that up because of a leg injury.  How did you first get interested in cycling?
I always liked to ride my bike as a kid. One day a friend’s father who rode challenged us to go on a little ride with him. I was 13, we went for a 12-mile stroll and by the end I thought I was going to pass out, but I loved it. As time went on he educated us about cycling, the Tour de France, Giro, spring classics and about all the legendary riders. Within a year I was riding a few hundred miles a week.

Cycling is still a passion of yours. How often do you get out? Where is your favorite route? Have you cycled in Napa Valley?
I ride in Napa valley almost every weekend; it is my favorite place to ride. I work closely with a farmer located in the valley to grow vegetables and other things I use at the restaurant. Typically I get up there early and get a ride in followed by an afternoon of farming. It’s a good balance. Otherwise I try to ride a few times per week down here in San Francisco.

What kind of bike do you ride?
Wilier, khs, specialized

Do you do any other types of exercise? What’s a typical week for you exercise-wise?
Cardio on an indoor trainer, three sessions a week for 30 minutes.

What kind of foods do you like to eat on long rides to keep fueled?I love fruit, bananas are convenient. Of course there are multitudes of energy bars these days, which is always amusing to me because when I was racing bicycles in my teens, I think powerbar had only one flavor. Then eventually 2 or 3. Now I feel like I’m always tasting a new flavor.

How did you meet Michael Chiarello?
Michael has been very supportive of my cooking.  We met when he came into SPQR shortly after I took the job, several years ago. Since then, we have done events together, although I’m looking forward to this one the most. I even had one of his daughters as an extern in my restaurant.

There will be a lot of foodies and wine lovers at the Bottega Gran Fondo. What’s your favorite food/wine indulgence? What’s your favorite dish to make?
I always enjoy wine the most when I’m visiting with the people and at the place where the wine is made. The Napa Valley offers this experience readily. These days my diet tends to consist mostly of vegetables; I appreciate them more after a few years of growing them. I enjoy cooking things that really represent the time or place where I am. For example, sea urchin scooped from the shell by the ocean sunset is the best tasting sea urchin.

What’s your craziest cycling story?
I crashed once, due to a flat tire, on a long downhill, during a race (in my teens). I had to have been going nearly 50 miles per hour. I thought I was done for. I had a bad case of road rash but not a single broken bone. I got up and finished the race after a bike change. At the time I just took it all in stride, today I think it would worry me much more.

What part of the Bottega Gran Fondo are you most looking forward to?
Spending time with the amazing cycling, food/wine professionals and enthusiasts as we ride through the Napa Valley.

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