Chef Clark Frain is excited to bring contemporary Italian cuisine, including crudo offerings, which means raw in Italian, to downtown Grand Rapids.
Frain is the executive chef at Mazzo Cucina D’Italia, which opened May 30. It’s located in the former Tre Cugini space, 122 Monroe Center St. NW. The restaurant is the newest venture from Faro Uccello, operating under Uccello’s Hospitality Group.
Mazzo bills itself as a “seafood forward” restaurant, offering an impressive raw bar and other contemporary Italian dishes such as wood fired pizzas, handmade pastas and meat based-dishes like lamb, chicken and beef filet.
“What defines me as a chef is my love of the craft and being able to break down whole animals and put them into complete dishes, whether it’s fish, beef or pig,” Frain said. “I like the craft of making things from scratch, like pasta, those are very important to us here and me personally.”
Frain said one of his favorite dishes right now is Mazzo’s branzino. “Whole grilled branzino, it’s head to tail,” he said. “We do a special cutting to remove the bones and insides and still keep the fish intact.”
Frain focuses on a myriad of flavor combinations, cooking techniques and presentation to achieve his contemporary dishes. “Personally, I really love seafood ingredients and dishes and am passionate about it,” he said. “I love playing around with marrying the flavors.”
He thinks diners in Grand Rapids are ready for new takes on Italian cuisine.
“I feel like Grand Rapids is in a need of modern takes on fish and oysters. I think crudo is something that’s been lacking in this area,” he said.
Frain said crudo is a growing trend in some of the country’s biggest cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and it’s time to bring the trend to Grand Rapids.
“I’m most excited about developing a culture in the kitchen, but I’m also excited about bringing something to Grand Rapids that I felt was a little bit lacking,” he said.
Frain said as a farm-to-table restaurant he feels privileged to create dishes that show off the work of local farmers as well. “It’s a privilege that someone wants you to handcraft something they’ve worked hard to grow,” he said. “And they feel privileged with what you just crafted.
“There is certainly an area of classic Italian cuisine that is great, but we are trying to focus on dishes where we can utilize local farmers and purveyors and bring that twist to the downtown area,” he said.
Frain is the former executive chef for Butches Dry Dock in Holland. He also spent eight years with The Gilmore Collection, five and a half of those years in sous chef roles at The B.O.B., Rose’s and the Flat River Grill and another three as executive chef at Judson’s Steakhouse.
He said he got his start in the food industry as a teenager working for Mr. Burger on Lake Michigan Dr., followed by a job at a restaurant on Alpine.
“I started to excel with the pace and the work, and I liked the energy on Friday nights. It was exhilarating and I found it to be fun,” he said.
After a stint at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College he landed at Gibson’s. “I had a great experience there,” he said. “I started refining my technique and learning about high quality ingredients.”
He also had the opportunity to work under Gibson’s owner and executive chef, Jim Powell, who was named chef of the year by the American Culinary Foundation during that time.
A six-month contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines allowed him to elevate his career further and helped him land his first sous chef job when he returned to Grand Rapids. “It was a risk and a challenge I was willing to take at that age,” he said.
Frain said his kitchen is as much a teaching kitchen as an opportunity for him to advance contemporary Italian cuisine in Grand Rapids.
“I’m focused on mentoring and teaching,” he said.
Watch Chef Clark prepare agnolotti and then give the recipe a try yourself.
Agnolotti Recipe from Chef Clark
00 flour: 250g
Egg Yolk: 10 Each
Half n Half: 1/4 Cup
For dough mix in tabletop mixer with dough hook attachment. If by hand, make a nest in the middle of a circle of flour, adding yolks in the center and half-n-half and mixing/kneading until smooth.Let dough hydrate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Begin rolling dough with a rolling pin, making sure to square off and size of the dough to fit into a pasta roller. Begin on thick size and gradually scale down to the 3 setting.
ARTICHOKE & RICOTTA FILLING
Ricotta: 1 Cup
Peeled Artichoke: 1⁄2 Cup
Orange Zest & Juice: 1⁄2 Orange
Salt: 1 Teaspoon
Lay dough in long rectangle approximately 2 inches wide, as long as you are able. Pipe or spoon filling in a straight line down one half of the dough. Fold dough over filling creating small rectangles approximately 1⁄2 by 3 inches. Cut into size and secure the edges your agnolotti. You will hav anywhere from 20 – 30 pieces.
Cipollini Onion: 1 Cup
Fennel: 2 Bulbs
Olive Oil: 1⁄4 – 1⁄2 Cup
Butter: 2 Tablespoons
Wash a peel the fennel. Chop into 3-4 inch pieces. Peel Onion; leave whole. Add oil & butter to thick bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add fennel and onion. Bring to low simmer, do not boil. Cook 45 minutes until tender. Strain olive oil from fennel and onion.
Butter: 1 pound
Roma Tomato: 4 Large
Blanch the tomato and remove skin. Cut in half and place in large baking dish, cut side down. Brush the tops lightly with olive oil. Place in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, until tender and slightly charred. Add warm tomatoes to softened butter and blend together. Place in refrigerator to set.
Cook 5 agnolotti in salted boiling water, 5-7 minutes until warmed through.
While pasta is cooking, bring a saute pan to high heat; add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 2-4 fennel and onion each; caramelize until golden brown. Deglaze pan with a splash of white wine. Reduce heat to medium and add 1⁄4 cup tomato butter. Add cooked pasta to saute pan. Toss to coat. Season with salt. Add fresh chive if desired.
Makes 5-6 servings. Enjoy with friends.
*Photos Courtesy of Mazzo