SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 20, 2013

Italian chef finds home in Beverly

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Rantoul Street was once home to a thriving Italian immigrant community. But it’s still a long way from Italy for a guy like Paolo Laboa.

Laboa grew up in Genoa, the birthplace of pesto, and was named Italy’s best young chef in 1994. His most recent job was executive chef at Farina, a restaurant in San Francisco that received a good review from The New York Times.

So what’s he doing as executive chef of Prides Osteria, a new restaurant at 240 Rantoul St.? That’s one of the questions we posed to Laboa and Michael Magner, the restaurant’s owner.

How did you end up at Prides Osteria?

Laboa: My wife, who was my sous chef at Farina, was born in Gloucester. We had two beautiful babies, and we decided to come here because of family. I was looking around for a job like crazy and saw this one on Craigslist.

Magner: I got an email from Paolo’s wife saying basically I’d be crazy not to hire him. Best young chef in Italy, best pesto in the world, two Michelin stars (a restaurant rating guide). You can stack up his cooking with anyone.

How would you describe your cooking style?

Laboa: I just want authentic and good comfort food. Food is something you put in your body. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, something that you’re afraid to put in your body. When the cow is killed, it doesn’t want to end up in a plastic bag. You want to make it live again.

Magner: He’s a stickler — no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed. Organic produce, local whenever possible. We don’t even have a freezer here.

Laboa: In my country, you never ask for organic food because it’s all organic.

Is it hard to go from a top restaurant in a big city like San Francisco to a new restaurant here?

Laboa: I’m not a young chef who wants to be famous. I don’t really care. I want everybody to have good food.

How do you like it here?

Laboa: I love it. It feels like home. New England people remind me a lot of where I’m from, Genoa. Once you’re friends, you’re friends.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.