Ryan Hardy, the hospitality entrepreneur and celebrity chef behind acclaimed New York restaurants Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones, and host of our Insider Journey to Puglia in October, discusses his obsession with Italy’s southern region—including its landscapes, culture and, most importantly, its food.
What is it you love about Puglia so much?
Ryan Hardy: One of my best friends put together a trip to Puglia in 2010. My wife is Italian, and neither of us had spent time there. But I had been to Italy a few times, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico, and I found this amazing juxtaposition in Puglia. It was Italian in everything that you know of, it was Greek in everything that you looked at, and it was Mexican in its vibrancy… Even in Italy, when you get down there, the Turkish influence is strong, the Moroccan influence is strong, the Greek influence is strong, and so you look around and you’re like, “We’re speaking Italian, but am I in Italy?” That trip was the start of a love affair. The summer after that first trip, [we] rented a house in another town. We go every year now. As a family (we have two kids), my wife and I look forward to that trip every year, and we even went for a month in 2019.
What makes Puglia such a special foodie destination?
RH: I’m obsessed with finding ingredients and going to visit artisans and learning the local names and traditions. To me, when you really get to know the local flora and fauna is when you start to put roots down. Puglia is rich in deep, deep, deep ways, and food is the wealth of the region. There are more olive trees in Puglia than there are planted in the rest of the country—just wave after wave after wave of olive trees that are two, even three thousand years old. They’ve seen every bit of history that we know of in modern civilization, and other regions of Italy don’t have that. They don’t have the weather to let these things grow year-round, and they don’t have the historical presence—these shadows cast across the land. For the past 15 years, I have been obsessed with olive oil. Puglia is olive oil. If you can learn nothing else about the region, that is the number-one thing.
Is there a specific Pugliese dish that you love?
RH: I love to make orecchiette. That dish exemplifies the region. The pasta is as peasant as it gets—it’s flour and water, the coarsest flour that you can find. Everything about it embodies the region—the texture of it, the color, the creaminess. It’s kind of a mishmash. You put it into a bowl and you recognize that this is not refined, and you cannot make it into a Michelin-starred dish. It is intentionally not that—and that is one of the things that I really cherish about Puglia.
Our Indagare Insider Journey with Ryan to Puglia this fall:
This fall, participants are joining Ryan Hardy and his wife and business partner Agatha Capacchione on a five-day journey (October 23 – 29, 2023) to experience the world-famous cuisine and heritage of Italy’s Puglia region—when the harvest season is at its peak. While based in the charming coastal towns of Polignano and Lecce, travelers will enjoy expert-guided tours that showcase the region’s rich history and culture, along with privileged access to distinguished producers and suppliers like Frantoio De Carlo and Vito Dicecca for private visits and tastings. They will discover the region at its most authentic time of year, when the tourist season comes to an end and the producers come to life. These industry insiders and local experts will invite them into their world, sharing secrets and stories of Pugliese gastronomy over cooking lessons and extravagant meals, all in the company of fellow travelers who share your passion for food, wine and good times.