Posted October 2, 2012

Walter Pisano Chats About 20 Years of Tulio

Eat + Drink

This fall, we continue to bring you closer to Kimpton chefs with Behind the Apron, our culinary series that celebrates their passion for food and cooking. In honor of our latest spotlight about knife skills, we caught up with a pretty sharp cookie: Executive Chef Walter Pisano of Tulio Ristorante in Seattle.

Chef Walter Pisano of Tulio

Chef Walter knows his way around a blade (julienning is his favorite technique). He also knows how to keep foodies and travelers happy. The proof is that Tulio, located in the heart of downtown, just celebrated its 20-year anniversary. We caught up with Chef Walter to find out more about what the monumental occasion means to him – and picked up some family stories and tricks of the trade, too.   Life is Suite: You just had a big anniversary celebration. How was it? Walter Pisano: It was a great gathering. It was amazing to hear stories of how our guests have connected with the restaurant staff and myself over the years. People have been coming since we opened in 1992. LIS: You’ve stayed loyal to Italian cuisine for 20 years. Has anything about the restaurant changed? WP: To start, the face of our downtown neighborhood has changed quite a bit since we opened. Now, there are more residents, more vibrancy. But we’ve always stayed focused on — and truly passionate about — the food and taking care of the guest. LIS: How have the ingredients evolved over the years? WP: We are able to get incredible product now from local sources, as well as imported. Our Italian importer, Ritrovo, brings in product we never saw before – things like oils, nuts, salts and beans. Also, the level of farming and raising animals has gone through the roof. We are finding smaller, more artisan farmers and even coffeemakers. Because the level of ingredients has risen, I’m allowed to be simpler in my approach to cooking. You don’t want to mask great ingredients; you step back and let them speak for themselves. LIS: What inspired you to get into the restaurant business? WP: My father was a restaurateur. He owned a nightclub and an Italian restaurant in Manhattan — it was around 40th Street and Park Avenue and catered to stockbrokers. You never knew who was going to walk through the door. Movie stars and athletes often visited. My father was always out talking to a lot of people. It was a demanding job for him, but also very interesting. LIS: Did you spend a lot of time immersed in that environment? WP: We lived outside the city, so I’d go in periodically if I had a day off from school. I would go to the Museum of Natural History and then stop by the restaurant for lunch. It was great to see my dad in his element.

Tulio is celebrating 20 years in downtown Seattle.

LIS: One could say you learned hospitality from your dad. Pick up any cooking tips from him, too? WP: He taught me how to use garlic and not overuse it. The rule is to only peel what you need, when you need it. Garlic starts to break down when it hits light, releasing its oils, and gets stronger in flavor … not always a good thing. I always roast, toast or caramelize garlic to soften it. LIS: Was your mother really into food, too? WP: She learned to cook Italian food from my father’s family. We did a lot of slow cooking … starting a sauce and adding spare ribs, and pigs’ feat and ears. It all went in the pot on Friday for Sunday supper. The key to getting it tender was to cook slowly. Growing up, it was always the challenge to not stick a stick of Italian bread in the pot. It was like a candy dish! LIS: We all know that chefs are pretty passionate about their knives. You are no exception. WP: Yes, we’re pretty anal about our knives. You have to have certain knifes for certain preparations. LIS: What knife could you not do without? WP: I’m a big fan of Shun knifes. They are Japanese knifes that used to only be used in Japanese cooking. My go-to Shun is my six-inch tomato knife – it’s serrated and keeps a great edge. Now, in tomato season, we’ve been really able to have some fun. LIS: Tell us about a tomato dish we could enjoy on the menu now. WP: We use a zima tomato {a strawberry tomato that has a sweet tendency} with burrata, plus homemade basil salt and basil micro greens with olive oil. LIS: And what about later this fall? WP: Peaches! And corn, through mid or late October. We’re always looking to the flavors of the season for inspiration. We’ve done that for 20 years. Congrats on the big anniversary, Walter! If you’re planning a trip to Seattle, make sure to swing by to say, “Cheers!” And try that tomato burrata, while you’re at it.   Tulio Ristorante is located at 1100 Fifth Avenue in Seattle (206-624-5500 or


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  1. James Kafman says:

    Hey Walter:
    Great to see your success ! You make Hazlet Proud!

  2. Walli Kay Osborn says:

    Hey Walter! Do you go by Wally?

    Yours truly,
    Walli Kay Osborn