Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we have Anthony Valinoti of Deluca’s Pizzeria Napoletana in Hot Springs.
How did you get from Brooklyn to Hot Springs?
It was an extraordinary break of good fortune. A dear friend of mine told me to visit and we thought Hot Springs would be a perfect spot for a New York Pizzeria.
What made you want to get into the pizza-making business?
After leaving New York City, I lived in Las Vegas, California and Miami and just could not get the quality of pizza I grew up with, so I decided to try to recreate this childhood memory of outstanding pizza. I had never cooked for anyone and wasn’t formally trained to do this. I just felt that I could make better pizza than what was out there. I was lucky to find Anna Cimmina and the great Enzo Coccio in Naples, Italy who gave me the mentoring to turn this dream into reality.
What makes it so unique?
My pizza is based on my emotions; I put my heart and soul into everything I do. It’s very a cathartic experience to be able to funnel all my emotions–happiness, sadness, pain, heartache–into something and see it produce something so special.
How old is Deluca’s Pizza and how did you choose that name?
Deluca’s is just over a year old, and it was named after my grandfather Pat Deluca, one of the great influences in my life.
What about running your own restaurant gives you the greatest joy?
Many things, but first and foremost, seeing someone smile after dinner. It reminds me of being at my mom’s house. After she made a great meal, you would just smile, you just knew how good it was at that moment. When I see people smile it makes everything we do worthwhile.
You’ve got so much energy…is it tough maintaining that excitement and enthusiasm on a daily basis?
No, not really, I’m wired a little different than most people. I still can’t believe I’m living this dream. I’m extremely fortunate to do what I do.
Back to the pizza…are many of your ingredients locally-sourced?
Yes, I insist on that! The produce here rivals anything that I’ve had around the country. The great people at J & V Farms take care in what they do. We have a wealth of resources here in Arkansas, so it would be crazy not to utilize them.
What’s your most popular pie thus far?
The Pancetta Pie. The Italian bacon, which comes from my friends over at Butcher & Public in Little Rock, is beyond great. He literally can’t make it fast enough for me.
What’s next for Deluca’s Pizza? Anything new in the works?
I am always looking for ways to expand our offerings, but as a perfectionist, this is a slow process. I insist on serving the finest and freshest ingredients available. This year, you’ll see some exciting additions.
Do you think your establishment and a few others can go a long way in to putting Hot Springs on the culinary map?
Hot Springs has some incredible food. I’m lucky to be a part of this vibrant community that has done so much for me, so if my little place can help people see the city in a different light, that is great.
Any visions of pop-up dinners in Little Rock?
No, not at this time. All my efforts are dedicated at the shop, and improving it each and every day takes up all my energy. I wouldn’t want to take that away from the shop.
Why should Little Rockers make the drive down to Hot Springs for a Deluca’s pizza?
I make something very unique that people appreciate. It’s well worth the short drive.
You’re an open book…why are you so free about sharing your recipes?
Food is about sharing. Sharing good food is a very human thing to do. I still can’t believe people ask me for recipes. I’m honored when they do, it reassures me that I’m on the right path.
What’s the secret to making great pizza?
Love, passion, sacrifice, sweat, tears, enthusiasm and patience.