Chef Joey Campanaro didn’t need an award for people to know that he makes a great meatball. New Yorkers, and indeed, West Villagers have said this for years. But he was officially recognized when he won the 2011 New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Meatball Madness — no small feat. We caught up with him at the 2011 Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival’s I Heart Champagne & Caviar event, where he was plating with Jonathan Waxman, and asked him what winning the award meant to him.
Your meatball has long been known as one of New York's best. Now you have an award saying that. What does that mean?
The most important thing about winning an award for an event that fights hunger is fighting hunger. And I was glad to be a big part of that. Winning it, it’s not going to change the recipe, we’re going to maintain the integrity of the dish and hopefully, provide a larger forum for people to enjoy it. Just because Little Owl is only 10 tables. So I’d like to have it in different venues.
What’s your philosophy of making an excellent meatball? How do you make a perfect meatball?
To make the perfect meatball you always have to start with great ingredients. And the secret ingredient is water. Actually add water to the mix. So if you think of a soup dumpling, there’s protein, fat, and water. If you don’t have water, the fat has nothing to hold onto.
Do you believe in gently tossing meatballs, or does it really not matter?
You have to roll them tight, because I don’t put them on a sheet tray and bake them in the oven. Each meatball gets fried individually. So they have to hold together. So it’s a tight roll. As tight as it can be, because when you add water to the mix it gets very loose. So you have to roll them really tight, and fry them individually, and take them out of that pan that you fried them in, and cook the gravy in the same pan that you fried them in so you have all those brown bits, the fonds, as the French like to call it, that’s what flavors the sauce.
You were talking about winning an award for an event that works to help fight hunger. Any advice you can give on what people can do to help fight hunger in America?
If I can say something to the general public, to the masses, the best advice I think I can give to each and every one of us, is to remember that we all have a responsibility. The more responsible that we are for ourselves, if we have children or for our families children, there’s going to be someone behind you. And unless you don’t want that to happen then don’t change your ways, but if you want that to happen, then change your ways and be responsible. And that’s the best thing I think I can say.
Are there things you do to help fight hunger at Little Owl, or things other chefs are doing, practical applications?
Yeah, that doggie bag you want to take home? You see somebody on the street? Give it to them. Don’t give them a dollar. Give the doggie bag.
Interested in more about the perfect meatball? Check out this video.