Spagna's chef Keith Taylor does not hail from Florence, Italy. He did not study the culinary arts in Paris, France. Instead, the Lowell resident learned the art of meatloaf from grandma and studied his trade through hard work and determination, coming up through the ranks starting as a dishwasher just out of high school. His path has taken him to several other eateries in the area, including the Lafayette Hotel and the Marietta Brewing Company. But for the past 10 years, Taylor has been serving up his own twist on classic Italian dishes in the kitchen of Spagna's.
Located at 301 Gilman Ave., Spagna's is owned by Kevin Whitby and has been in business on the west side since 2003. Whitby named the restaurant for his mother - Spagna is her maiden name. In addition to the traditional spaghetti and meatballs, chef Taylor whips up some seafood specialties, like shrimp veracruz, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi and baked sole. Business has been so good at Spagna's lately that they are looking to add chefs to the current staff of six just to keep up with the demand.
Question: How long have you been living in the area and how long have you been a chef here at Spagna's?
ERIN O’NEILL The Marietta Times
Chef Keith Taylor sits at the antique bar inside Spagna’s Italian restaurant at 301 Gilman Ave. The Lowell resident does his best to bring a little bit of Italy to Marietta with his creations.
Answer: I have been here 10 years this month, almost as long as they've been open. I have pretty much lived in Lowell, Marietta, Parkersburg and this area my whole life.
Q: What is your background or schooling?
A: I just started in the business at a young age. I started at the bottom washing dishes. I haven't really had any training or schooling, I have just learned through my work and worked my way up to where I am now. Business has doubled from where it was last year at this time so we are getting ready to hire some more people to help me in the kitchen.
Job: Chef at Spagna's.
Favorite food to eat: Homestyle.
Favorite food to prepare: Seafood.
Favorite city to eat in: There's no place like home.
Q: Where does your love of cooking come from?
A: Probably my grandma. It wasn't something I set out to do - it just kind of happened and turned out I was good at it and stuck with it. But anything grandma made was good.
Q: What is the most complex or difficult thing that you know how to prepare?
A: Um, I don't know. There are certain sauces that are difficult. If you don't do it right, you can overcook seafood, especially things like scallops and shrimp and a lot of people do tend to overcook it.
Q: What is your favorite Spagna's dish to prepare and then what is your most popular?
A: The most popular would probably be the shrimp and scallop diablo. But, gosh, I've been doing this for so long, it's hard to choose a favorite. Probably I would choose that as my favorite as well. It's spicy and we sell a lot of it. People always say to me 'Wow, you probably get to eat all this good food' and I could but after 10 years, sometimes I like to just head up the street to the Harmar (Tavern).
Q: Do you cook for yourself in your down time or leave that to someone else?
A: I will cook breakfast at home, it is my favorite meal to prepare. And I cook out on the grill. But I'm not normally home at dinnertime. My wife is a good cook, too. Her grandma had her own restaurant in Lowell - Ma and Pa's Dinner Bell. My wife and I actually met at the Brewery when we both worked there.
Q: Are you a picky eater? Is there anything you won't or can't eat?
A: Uh, to a certain extent. I can't do anything raw like sushi or any of that kind of stuff. I'm not adventurous, I pretty much stick to the meat and potatoes.
Q: So how do you learn how to make all these Italian dishes?
A: A lot of it I just pull out of my head. When I want to try something new, the Internet is a good tool to have.
Q: Do you garden or shop at the farmers market at all?
A: We do have a garden and I try to use fresh when I can. I don't get out to the farmers markets as much as I'd like because I work all the time. But we do have a lot of good local produce around here.
Q: What do you like about living and working in Marietta?
A: It's a nice, pretty little town. It's fairly peaceful. I like to get out on the river and fish, boat. I don't like the big city.
Q: What else do you enjoy outside of the kitchen?
A: I like to hunt, fish, play guitar. I don't play professionally but get together with some local people and play quite often. We get together at the Harmar on Thursday nights and play. My aspiration when I was younger was to be a musician - I was a little naive back then. But I still enjoy it.
Q: Where else do you like to eat around town?
A: I really don't eat out much. I like to eat at home and prepare my own food. My wife likes going to places like Applebee's and that kind of stuff.
Q: Do you critique these places at all?
A: I try not to because I know what it's like to be there in that situation. But there are things that happen. I just don't call it out.
Erin O'Neill conducted this interview.