Evan Funke | Buona Giornata Ricotta Salata

In Conversation with LA's Pasta Guru

Written by

Jake Carlisi

Photographed by

No items found.

Styled by

No items found.
No items found.
Photographed by Eric Wolfinger

There is no talk of the American pasta scene without mention of chef Evan Funke. To many, the pinnacle of the country’s take on this Italian cuisine can be found at Funke’s Felix Trattoria in Los Angeles. It is here that the world came to experience the fare of a man self-described as “maniacal” about pasta, and the many shapes and varieties of it that he has dedicated the past two decades-plus to mastering.

An average night will see Funke in the kitchen, neglecting the mechanized pasta makers that equally regarded culinary masters acquiesce to – rolling, cutting and shaping dough by hand in an esoteric manner that could only be learned on Italian soil and in the kitchens of Sardinian grandmothers. Indeed, the native Angeleno’s path to gastronomical reverence that began in his hometown found its true footing in Bologna. Here is where Funke apprenticed under the legendary Alessandra Spisni while traversing Italy’s many regions, cultivating the ancestral skills that would guide the life of a man now a custodian of the traditions of old.

Evan’s skill and dedication have not been lost on the eating public, who have helped make Felix amongst the most acclaimed Italian restaurants not only in Los Angeles but in the United States. His success led to the opening of Mother Wolf In early 2022: the chef’s homage to the cuisine and traditions of Rome in the heart of Hollywood. More recently he opened the eponymously named Funke in Beverly Hills, with Mother Wolf Las Vegas opening on December 13 and the Tuscan-inspired Tre Dita opening in Chicago within the following year. We caught up with Evan to discuss these new projects, as well as his life,­­ dedication and ambitions within this space. 

Looking back, what do you think ultimately inspired you to want to cook? Were there formative experiences that you believe shaped you into becoming a successful chef? Can you even imagine having done anything else with your career?

My parents had a kind of invisible format in their parenting. Their freestyle generally left me without direction or discipline but I was made fully aware that creative expression and hard work were good things. For me, the kitchen was a universal solution for the things I was searching for: camaraderie, structure, pressure, creativity, and work strenuous enough to exhaust an inexhaustible drive to be great at something. I suppose it could have happened in another field but it just so happens that I enjoy making people happy. I think that’s why most cooks cook and why most people in the hospitality industry do what they do. We seek approval and recognition for our toil. 

Sometimes a smile from a guest makes all the pain worthwhile. I think there’s something very noble about being in service to others. Failure and a relentless commitment to learn from my mistakes have been the greatest tools in defining what success looks like for me. My current position in life is a culmination of the mentorship that I have been fortunate enough to receive. Success and excellence are cumulative and they are ultimately determined by the success of the team around you. I can’t see myself doing anything else because that would mean that I feel less fulfilled with what I’m doing currently.

What do you feel is most misunderstood about your profession? 

I think what’s rarely highlighted is how difficult this business is. It’s not easy to take a group of individuals from different walks of life and varied experience levels and mold them into a cohesive group that moves and communicates. Like, how do you teach critical thinking or proactivity? It’s not just about cooking and serving, but also about having the physical, mental and emotional strength to perform to expectation at high intensity on a consistent basis. Applying warm and generous hospitality in the face of adversity takes real grit.

You’ve gone from working 10 hours a day just perfecting the craft of pasta making to appearing on the world’s most popular podcasts and news shows. How has notoriety changed you? What has the experience taught you about yourself and the world that you don’t think you would have realized otherwise? 

I don’t think that’s a question that I can answer. It’s a question better answered by those around me. What I can say is that I’m more selective about how I spend my time and in whom or what I invest my time. I’ve learned to exercise diplomacy, kindness and gratitude wherever and whenever possible. 

Obviously, your time spent in and appreciation for Italy has had an enormous influence on your cuisine. What, if anything, did growing up in Los Angeles offer you in terms of your specific culinary style? How often are you thinking of the city (its produce, traditions etc.) when constructing your menus?

One of the most beautiful things about Italian food and culture is their reverence for seasonality, terroir and ingredients. When I got back from Italy, for the first time in 2008, I immediately recognized the similarities of the farmers markets. I think that the markets in California give chefs, especially Los Angeles chefs, an extraordinary palette to paint from. Los Angeles is one of the most exciting and diverse places to be a chef. This city is very flexible in regard to how it dines, and I find that very cool. 

What inspired you to branch outside of Los Angeles? Were there particular qualities about Las Vegas and Chicago that inspired you to open Mother Wolf and Tre Dita in those respective cities?

Expansion is very much a relationship driven thing. Having the right partners and the correct team architecture is critical for the success of any business. Tre Dita is the result of a longtime relationship with Rich Melman, who’s been a great mentor to me. The strength of the organization is very much a reflection of the quality of the leadership within Lettuce Entertain You. Mother Wolf in Vegas at the Fontainebleau is a no brainer. Rome has a spectacular history of opulence and overindulgence, that’s what Vegas is all about. 

Tre Dita will be your first restaurant that you classify as a steakhouse. What prompted this shift? What can we expect from this step in your career that will look different from your previous ventures?

Well, Tre Dita is not necessarily a steakhouse; it’s a Tuscan restaurant. It just so happens that la Cucina Toscana celebrates beef – and so does Chicago. A Tuscan restaurant is a natural fit. I feel it’s important for all business people to evolve and within that evolution there is a recognizable through line. No matter how many restaurants I open, that through line will undoubtedly be pasta.  

You are at a point in your career where you’re widely regarded as one of America’s greatest chefs and pasta makers. With all the success that your restaurants and you personally have experienced, can you point to one or two things that continue to motivate you above all else?

The mentorship I leave behind is my legacy. All I want is to be worthy of the stage that I stand on. 

No items found.
No items found.
Flaunt Magazine, Evan Funke, Felix, Mother Wolf, Tre Dita