“I love to eat, which makes me love to cook,” says Antonio Franco of Federal Hill’s new hotspot The Grande. Born and bred in Providence, Franco has been through the ranks of the local dining scene: his first job was as a dishwasher for Paul Jalaf at Mezza in North Providence, where he worked his way up to chef. Before writing the sophisticated, French-inspired menu for The Grande, which opened this summer, Franco was chef at Pane e Vino. “You have to have pride in your food in order to appreciate it,” Franco says. “I will not put out a product with my name on it if I wouldn’t eat it myself; good quality ingredients equal good quality food.” For the new restaurant on increasingly-eclectic Atwells Avenue, he explains, “The idea was to make a menu with familiar ingredients so we wouldn’t intimidate the customer and also make it affordable. With the economy the way it is, we could all use a little value. We try to use local and seasonal when available and give back to our community.”
It’s late, you’ve just left your restaurant for the night, and you’re hungry. Where are you going and what are you eating?
Lili Marlene’s, for a shrimp po’ boy sandwich and fries. Wash it back with Brooklyn
What if you’ve invited some friends back to your place instead? What’s on the menu?
Most likely some kind of hash and poached eggs with whatever half-eaten takeout I have in the fridge. Fridge pillaging gets pretty interesting.
What are three ingredients you absolutely can’t live without in either your home or restaurant kitchen?
Extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, sriracha.
What do you think of the state of the Providence dining scene right now?
I think Providence has come a long way. For years, all we had was Federal Hill and a few decent places scattered around the city. Now there are some amazing new restaurants and even better chefs. The farm to table aspect has really moved forward in the past few years as well, giving chefs outstanding locally sourced products to work with.
I would love to see the dining scene move towards more modern restaurants. We have extremely talented chefs in this state – give them a try! How many times can you really eat veal parm?
What’s one national food trend you would like to see more of in Providence?
I would love to see more new/modern Italian. The classic American Italian is just getting abused. We need more fresh pasta, house-cured salume, scratch kitchens.
What ingredient do you wish was yours only?
Bacon! Beautiful house cured bacon, and with bacon comes bacon fat – two of the best things you can ever taste.
If you could pick one clichéd, trendy food that you find on too many restaurant menus and permanently retire it, what would it be?
That’s a tough one to decide. I don’t think it’s the ingredients I want to retire; I think it’s more the way certain restaurants use them. Food is always evolving and changing, so trendy now could become amazing in the future. That said, I’d like to ban veal scaloppini of any creation. Pounding and smashing veal until it’s non-existent, and then pan frying it until it looks like an old potato chip, followed by boiling it in wine... Not a fan.
It’s one of your precious few days off, and you’re hungry. Are you cooking at home or going out to eat? Either way, what’s on the menu?
Definitely going out. For breakfast: Nicks on Broadway for steak and eggs, side of hollandaise. Lunch: Flan y Ajo for jamon iberico and smoked salmon with goat cheese and honey; or El Rancho Grande for tacos or torta Oaxaqueña. Dinner: New Rivers for bone marrow or anything with local mushrooms; Chez Pascal for terrine, charcuterie, and sausage; Centro in the Westin for pasta or sweetbreads.