Kris C. Prieto

Jo McGarry photo

Executive Chef, Bella Mia Pizzeria

Where were you born and raised? Born and raised in Philadelphia I spent my whole life there until coming to Hawaii.

What started your interest in cooking? I have cooked as long as I can remember. My favorite Christmas gift of all time was a play kitchen and I immediately started trying to cook real food in it. My mother was injured in an accident when I was 5 years old, and I really quickly had to learn to make things to eat.

So did you always know you wanted to work in the industry? I started as a dancer. I went to a performing arts school in Philadelphia, but when I realized I would never be a ballerina, I gravitated toward food. I started a catering business and then decided to go to culinary school.

You worked with some of Philly’s finest chefs, and in some of the city’s favorite restaurants. Yes, I was fortunate to work at some great restaurants: The Striped Bass, Paradiso, Cuvee Notre Dame and Standard Tap. I followed famous Philly chef Caroline Angle around. She set me free! (laughs)

How did you come to Hawaii? I came last year to take care of my aunt, and from the moment the plane landed I felt like I was meant to be here. Hawaii is a wonderful place. I haven’t been this happy in a long time.

I’m noticing a lot more seafood on the menu at Bella Mia. I love seafood it’s one of my specialties and I love anything grown or caught locally. So, yes, you’re going to see a lot more seafood on the menu, and there will be a lot of daily and weekly special dishes depending on what’s in season.

Including homemade pasta? Yes! I’m doing gnocchi this week, made with spinach or sun-dried tomatoes, and we’ll have a house-made ravioli and different pasta from scratch. There’s going to be a lot of homemade pasta on the menu. The focus will stay Italian, but we’re kicking it up a little.

The Bella Mia pizza has quite a following. Are you changing that recipe? No. Not going to touch the pizza. I see no reason to mess with that. It’s perfect the way it is.

Do you have favorite ingredients? Anything in season will spark an idea for a recipe, but I love fresh herbs. Each herb has a way it needs to be dried to bring out its flavor, so you’ll always find lots of fresh and freshly dried herbs in my kitchen.