"And a lot of the things that they were asking for, were the Italian things. Just because inherently Italian cooking is a simpler cuisine, and you can make great things with three ingredients, and that kind of started me on a road of making everything a little bit simpler. And that was kind of like one of the first times I actually listened to customer response. Which is different from critical response.
"Because, you know, critics sometimes -- they want you to go for it all the time. ... I realized that you know, you want to make great food, but for people who come two, three four times a week -- which in New York you have a lot of customers who are eating out many many times -- so I wanted to make sure they could come and have something simple that was great if they wanted."
That said, it can be difficult in this age of food fetishizing to find a diner who isn't a critic.
"When we opened," said Carmellini of Locanda Verde, "it seemed like every second table was taking photographs of the food, and it's not really a high-end kind of -- it surprised me because I was used to that before, a little bit, because ... the plate was a little more intricate, more artistry on the plate -- there was more, you know, I won't say more or less technique, but more visual technique. And we opened, and every second table was taking pictures of, like, a bowl of pasta.
"And it's a little annoying. Just when I go out to eat, you know, I just really want to put my fork in it and enjoy it. And I think you know for me, it seems not as fun really, if you are going to overanalyze it and pick up your knife and fork, and pick up every little thing and overanalyze it. As opposed to, I am out with my wife, or out with friends, and you know, let's just have a good time. And the food is a vehicle to have a good time. ... As a diner I don't want to get that overly critical. As a chef now I am used to it. I am used to it."
Carmellini looks askance at many features of the foodie-industrial complex. It is as if food criticism, the celebrity chef culture and ambient hype have erected a wall to segregate -- instead of protecting -- the best parts of the food experience.
"It's cliche, because a lot of people talk about this, but you know, to be a great -- there's a difference between being, like, a chef, and then kind of an entertainment personality. And there's some great chefs that are on TV now, but there's -- it's different. Being a chef you have to know a lot about the business, you have to know a lot about people. And no one shows you this stuff, really, you just learn it along the way.
"Experience, I mean you still learn every single day about cooking and about people. I will never figure out that one. But, it's just an evolving process. So you've got to have some good experience behind you."
Like many a chef who has grappled his way to the higher reaches of the restaurant business, Carmellini has remarked how different things are these days from when he was coming up.
"When I graduated from high school [in 1989], I would tell people I was going to go to cooking school ... I mean I might as well have told them I was, you know, going into the seminary. They didn't understand it. They had no idea what I was talking about. Ninety-nine-point-five percent of my graduating class went to college. I was like no, I am going to cooking school.