Aqua Pazzo Chef Reflects on Food Network Victory

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Chef Mark Canzonetta knew what he was getting into when he appeared on the Food Network reality show “Guy’s Grocery Games.” He worked for the host, celebrity chef Guy Fieri, for two years.

“I had to do some crazy things for Guy,” Canzonetta recalls. “At his talent agency, I had to prepare a tasting meal for 30 people inside of a galley-coffee room on the 17th floor.”

But he admits that there’s no real preparation for the challenges you face on set. Nevertheless, Canzonetta and his daughter, Gina, defeated two father-son teams to walk away with the $20,000 prize. The episode, entitled “Father Cooks Best,” aired June 19.

It proved to be a frantic time, Canzonetta says. “It’s 30 minutes – Shop. Cook. Plate.”
Canzonetta is the executive chef at Aqua Pazzo, 492 McClurg Road.

Fieri pits chefs against each other in what the show calls a ” high-stakes, high-skills, grocery store cooking competition.”

Canzonetta and his competitors faced the challenge of creating a dish from ingredients in the middle of aisles of the grocery store, which usually consists of processed foods, he says. “That excluded everything on the exterior, which was the fresh meats, sea foods, all of your bread, all of your produce.”

The next round aimed to eliminate a variety of ingredients from the competition, including offbeat items such as popcorn and beef jerky. “We actually had to bowl with a cantaloupe and knock down two-liter jars of soda that were wrapped with the ingredient,” he says.

Canzonetta’s dish included polenta and imported tuna from Italy. Halfway through the cooking, Fieri extended a “perimeter pass” to the contestants, which allowed Gina Canzonetta to obtain some Italian sweet sausage.

“That fed right into my upbringing, my background,” he says.

Shows on the Food Network tend to emphasize plating, clean presentation and “balancing tastes,” he says, and Canzonetta believes successfully meeting those challenges gave them the edge they needed to win.

Canzonetta’s father was sick with Pancreatic cancer at the time of the taping. “We did it for my dad,” he says of their win. His father died in February.

The restaurant’s business has benefited from the publicity, he says. “People have really come to Aqua Pazzo quite a bit, and we hope that continues.”

Aqua Pazzo is Italian for “crazy water,” although in Italian water is spelled “acqua.” It opened in May 2016.

Canzonetta met Fieri, who he describes as a “great mentor and great friend,” in 2010. He eventually went to work for him as part of his recipe development team. Fieri’s line of specialty products are now produced next door to Aqua Pazzo at Summer Garden Food Manufacturing.

Canzonetta hopes he won’t be the last chef from Mahoning Valley to appear on the Food Network. He’s openly challenged his culinary friends in the area to apply to appear on a show.

“All the chefs in Cleveland get a lot of media attention. Why not Youngstown? With Youngstown’s revitalization and all of the great projects we have going on in the city, it can only bring more attention and more great things to us.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.