Chef Q+A with Strada's Anthony Cerrato

From February through May, 16 of the area's top chefs competed in the WNC Chefs Challenge. With the field now narrowed down to four, we look forward to seeing these chefs bring the heat as they battle for the title of Best Chef in WNC. Between now and the Festival in August, we will be interviewing the final four as we get ramped up for the semi-finals. 

Our first featured semi-finalist, Anthony Cerrato, is the executive chef of Strada, a warm, friendly Italian restaurant that serves traditional cuisine from the boot with a focus on fresh, local ingredients. See what Anthony says about his challenge experience and culinary inspiration:

AWFF: What's been the most challenging secret ingredient so far?

AS: Apples! Our first challenge was to cook with apples in March?! Beautiful, mealy, flavorless apples. But we brought it with the Chicken Tagine.

AWFF: What's your edge in this competition?

AS: My edge? Hmmm... Let me ask my fiancée. Ok, she says I am very creative and I don't have any issue providing meals and recipes outside of my daily routine that ever fail to satisfy. Now, I'd like to give props to my mother's family for bringing me up in a food-centric Italian family in North-Eastern NJ (Nutley). Plus, the fact that this is the only profession I have ever had since 1990 :)

AWFF: If you could smuggle in a special ingredient to use of your own, what would it be?

AS: Black Garlic... It's my recent fun thing. Black garlic has many uses and is actually kinda sweet with all the health benefits of garlic times 100. One of my most rewarding daily experiences is cooking for people with dietary needs/allergies. That is why we have so many gluten-free menu items at Strada and our menu is all made to order. I love helping people with "anxiety of eating out" feeling as if a member of their own family is cooking for them. For me, it's all about the Italian Hospitality and warm, caring experience. Of course the food sensory overload, too ;)

AWFF: Favorite wine?

AS: Wines from the Corvina grape (which also make Valpolicella Ripasso & Amorone). I recently made an Italy trip visiting 12 wineries from Southern to Northern Italy... That area of Italy and those wines seem to resonate with me. Try some wines from Michele Castrellani Winery. I met the family and Sergio has hands of leather and iron from years of hard labor in the fields to provide us with that magical juice of Corvina! 

AWFF: Favorite celebrity chef?

AS: Hmmm... It's a tie between Giada DeLaurentiis because she reminds me of the women of my childhood (also chefs Sheila Tillman at A-B Tech and Cathy Shastri, my first restaurant mentor) that inspired my culinary path, which in Italian cooking simple applications to fresh quality foods is key! Julia Child, because she was a classic chef that embarked on her culinary path in her 40's , which should inspire us all to "Do what you are passionate about (at any age) and the rest will follow." Most of my big life lessons have been taught to me by strong women... I really appreciate that.

And we appreciate Anthony taking the time to talk with us! You can help decide who wins while enjoying a delicious dinner when Anthony takes on Chef Brian Ross of DOUGH on August 21 at Pack's Tavern. Tickets and details available here.