Welcome to Chef Talks, a series in which our staff talks to the men and women who create, cook, and deliver some of the best food in the C-U and surrounding areas. This week we’re talking with Ramin Karimpour of Pizzeria Antica. Read on to meet him, his restaurant and see some delicious photos of what you can expect from this Downtown Champaign pizzeria.
Smile Politely: Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from, and how and why did you become a chef?
Ramin Karimpour: My hometown is Eugene, Oregon, but I have lived off and on in Central and Southern Illinois for a total of 21 years. I am not a chef even though I cook a lot. I am a certified Pizzaiolo, which is a kind of baker.
I am trained in and practice the art of pizza as required by the Scoula, Italiana Pizzaioli and the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). I am what happens to any pizza aficionado when they stop taking their meds and leave their day jobs.
SP: How would you describe your (or your restaurant’s) style?
Karimpour: We are a pizzeria. Nothing more, nothing less.
SP: Do you source many of your ingredients from local Illinois farms?
Karimpour: We are not a farm-to-table concept. We import most of our ingredients from Italy. We incorporate ingredients from local Illinois farms when it makes sense. Leslie and Wes From Prairie Fruits Farm provide us with sublime goat cheeses for our pizza and antipasti. Stan from Triple S Farms provides us with an incomparable Italian sausage. Claude from Piemonte Artisanal Sausage brings us a delicious Goat Merguez sausage.
SP: What makes your restaurant special?
Karimpour: We are one of three pizzerias in Illinois making authentic Neapolitan pizza according to the rules set by the AVPN in Naples, Italy. The other two are Spacca Napoli and Coalfire in the Chicago area.
SP: What is your signature dish?
Karimpour: We believe that the Margherita Pizza has lasted on Neapolitan pizzeria menus for 185 years because it is the perfect pizza.
SP: What is your favorite knife? What type do you use?
Karimpour: My favorite knife is one wielded by my regular customers that know a Neapolitan pizza is eaten with a knife and fork. Always.
SP: What is your favorite non-knife kitchen tool?
Karimpour: Does our 5000-pound hand built ovens from Stefano Ferrera count as a tool? I love my ovens.
SP: What is your usual after-work drink?
Karimpour: As a pirate stealing dining dollars on the culinary high seas of Champaign, I drink rum, of course. During U of I breaks when Antica is becalmed, I drink a lot of rum.
SP: If you only had one meal left in life, what would you eat?
Karimpour: I have eaten more than my share of pizza in my life. if the apocalypse was coming in an hour, I would opt for fried chicken from Watson’s. If the end was in a few hours, I would drive to Paxton for brisket and ribs from the Humble Hog.
SP: What do you like to do on your days off?
Karimpour: Kayaking the Middle Fork, a lot. I’m enjoying it while I can before the coal ash dam breaks and kills the only Wild and Scenic River in Illinois.
Pizzeria Antica is located at 10 E Chester St, Champaign, IL 61820 and is open for business from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day except Monday. Check them out in person or online.
All photos by local photographer, Veronica Mullen. Check out more of her work at VeronicMullen.com