The Men Who Cook
The San Joaquin Valley is known as “the bread basket of the world” for good reason: we are surrounded by agriculture and an abundance of fresh ingredients, year round. Here in Fresno, “farm to table” can be very literal. At the same time, the Valley is home to countless cultures, and as a result, a very rich culinary heritage. CVLUX would like to introduce you to three of “The Men Who Cook” in Fresno, who make it fresh, fun and delicious to eat right here in our own neighborhoods.
Jim, Jeff and Jimmy Pardini, The Annex Kitchen
The Annex Kitchen, once home to Pardini’s Café, is an Italian-inspired restaurant influenced by the seasonal offerings of farmers throughout Central California, opened by Jim Pardini and his sons, Jeff and Jimmy Pardini. Inspired by his travels throughout Italy, Jimmy Pardini began his cooking career at Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles. After working in Los Angeles for several years, Jimmy decided to move back to his hometown of Fresno and enter into business with his brother Jeff, and father, Jim. In June of 2015 they renovated the existing Pardini’s Cafe into what is now The Annex Kitchen.
The cuisine the Pardini family seeks to reflect is the rustic, ingredient-focused cooking of regional Italy. The focus of the menu revolves around housemade pastas, grilled meats and vegetables from a wood burning hearth, and pizzas baked in their wood burning Acunto oven. The full bar also draws inspiration from locally sourced seasonal produce in its development of modern crafted cocktails while also paying homage to the classics.
Italian food is quite literally in this family’s blood, as is the restaurant business. Jim worked with his own father in several restaurants here in Fresno, learning to do everything from bussing tables to meal prep. In 1971, Jim and his father, Al, opened Pardini’s restaurant on Shaw and Van Ness, and then in 1981, Jim founded Pardini’s Catering Company, one of the largest and established catering companies in the San Joaquin Valley.
Three generations of Pardini men who cook is clearly turning out “quite deliciously,” as earlier this year, at the Best of the Valley Restaurant Awards, Jimmy Pardini received the honor of being named Restaurateur of the Year, while his father, Jim Pardini, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pat LaRocca, FIVE
Pat LaRocca has always been in the restaurant business. His first job was at his uncle’s restaurant, the original DiCicco’s on Blackstone. In the ‘80s, Pat’s parents opened LaRocca’s, where Pat worked until he opened his own restaurant in 2015, FIVE, in its current location, on Champlain in Fresno.
FIVE offers an exquisite blend of contemporary Californian and Italian cuisine and features a private dining room, a wine room, an outdoor dining patio and full bar. The engaging atmosphere and energetic ambience is perfect for a romantic dinner or a night out with friends.
Pat is passionate about food and the food service industry, and it’s evident in his exuberance and genuine enjoyment of both his job and his customers. But he’s also passionate about where he lives. Of course, he loves to visit other places and enjoys splurging on travel (especially to Italy), but he told CVLUX, “I love living in Fresno because this city is my true home with my friends, my family and the community who has continued to be so good to me over the years. Fresno will always be home to me—she and I are like a well- worn shoe ... we just fit together perfectly.”
Pat’s other passion is his family. He has been married to his wife, Marina, for over 22 years, and the couple has two daughters. When CVLUX asked him what the perfect evening for him would look like, his answer was, “One with all of my family.”
Fresno restaurant-goers agree that FIVE is one of their favorite places to eat (and drink), and in fact the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association called FIVE “Best Watering Hole” earlier this year.
Tony Sciola, Campagnia
Owned by Tony Sciola, Campagnia Restaurant, located in the heart of the upscale Woodward Park area, at the corner of Champlain and Perrin, offers an eclectic menu of California Bistro Cuisine. The food is prepared by award-winning chef, Floro Bugnosen, and has received multiple awards.
Tony opened Campagnia Restaurant in 2001, and since then his mission has been “to provide creative, cutting- edge cuisine in a relaxing, neighborhood environment.” His vision is for his patrons to experience an upscale but casual atmosphere that is fun and memorable. Perfect for a romantic, upscale dining experience or a quick get-together, Campagnia has been recognized as “Best Fine Dining Restaurant” and “Best Watering Hole” by their peers at the California Restaurant Association. They have also been awarded “Best Brunch,” “Best Patio Dining,” and in 2015, “Diner’s Choice” by Open Table.
Known for their Specialty Martinis, the bar at Campagnia is open daily, from 11 a.m. until close, with a Happy Hour from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Not only that, patrons will find featured drink specials and enjoy complimentary appetizers during Happy Hour, with a view of Fresno’s largest wine selection, which is visible through a glass wall.
Campagnia Restaurant also features Fresno’s only year- round Garden Atrium. Restaurant-goers can enjoy plush couch seating, beautiful garden décor, misters and fans designed to make dining al fresco pleasant, even in Fresno’s hot summers.
Managing Editor Cheryl Ensom Dack
Photographer Don Dizon