When you go somewhere to eat, you arrive with certain expectations based on prior knowledge of the place, the credentials of the chef, and the experience of human interaction that has accumulated over the course of your life.
It's fair to say that, upon my arrival at landmark Mt Eden pizza joint Al Volo to meet with its owner, chef Luca Villari, every one of my expectations was up-ended: my expectations of the place, the food and the idea that, at some stage, he would stop talking long enough for me to get a word in.
After showing me the pizzeria's $20,000 woodfired pizza oven in which he daily prepares a steady stream of some of Auckland's best pizzas, and in which he had set raging a fire that was slowly sending the oven's temperature towards 400 degrees, Villari showed me the piece of eye fillet steak he planned to cook me for lunch.
"I'm not doing pizza - no way!" he said, as if that would have been the craziest thing in the world.
He talked me through his credentials - including spells as executive sous chef at Cin Cin on Quay, head chef at Wildfire - and many other subjects, at an unparalleled rate of words per minute, while we waited an extraordinary length of time for the pizza oven to get hot.
He told me he had given up coffee a week earlier, along with sugar. I marvelled at the thought of how things might have gone had I been there two weeks ago.
After 40 minutes of waiting for the oven to heat and listening to him run through a range of facts and anecdotes, we came to the point where I had no choice but to interrupt. I waited for him to insert a rare comma in his story - there were no full stops - and then told him I had to leave in 20 minutes.
He flew into action, and I was somewhat surprised to find that, in a relatively short space of time, he had seared, then smoked the beef, made a beautifully simple caprese salad, blitzed some pesto, chucked it on a plate with some grilled ciabatta, and paused to think often enough that I could occasionally ask him what he was doing.
Twelve minutes after starting to cook, he said: "So we'll say 11 minutes then?" he said.
I looked forward to sitting down with him and hopefully finally getting to squeeze in a few questions about his food and about life in general.
Instead, he put plates down for me and the photographer, then retired to the kitchen to clean up. The photographer and I oohed and aahed over the meal with its perfect narrative arc of classy beef, expensive cheese, oil and bread. We hardly talked.
It felt like there was nothing left to say.
Luca Villari's scores (out of five):
Total questions answered: 3
Total pauses in speech: 2
Total attempts at cheating: 1
Recipe: Rare beef with caprese salad and bruschetta
Luca Villari finished the beef in a wood-fired pizza oven which reaches a temperature of
400C. You can preheat your home oven to 250C for similar results, it will take a little longer to cook however.
300g thin beef eye fillet steak
1Tbsp canola oil
2x sprigs rosemary
4x 5mm thick slices of ciabatta bread
1 Tblsp virgin olive oil plus extra to garnish
10 mixed cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2x 125g buffalo mozzarella balls, cut into 3-4 slices per ball
2x Tbsp pesto [recipe below]
2x Tbsp vincotto [available in specialty supermarkets]
Micro greens, to garnish
Salt and pepper
1 cup basil leaves
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp toasted pine nuts
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat a heavy-based frying pan on high heat on one element then on a second element heat a griddle pan or frying pan. Drizzle the canola oil on to a small plate. Place beef on plate and massage the oil into the meat on both sides, then season.
2. Place the meat into hot pan and sear for 1 minute on each side. Place the rosemary sprigs on a small baking tray, place beef on top and transfer to hot oven cook to your preferred doneness - for rare it will take a few minutes only. Then take the meat out and rest.
3. While the beef is cooking drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil on to a plate. Dip the cut ciabatta in the oil then score on the hot griddle pan for for 1-2 minutes on each side then set aside for use.
4. For the pesto place all the ingredients in a small blender and pulse till smooth.
Place the rested meat on a chopping board and thinly slice against the grain. Place the toasted ciabatta on to a serving plate, arrange the slices of mozzarella on next. Place the cherry tomatoes in a small bowl, drizzle on the balsamic and season, scatter on to the bruschetta. Drizzle with pesto. Lay the beef on top, drizzle with vincotto, then garnish with micro greens and virgin oil.