This Cajun Chicken Pizza Will Remind You Of Your Salad Days Chef James Rigato makes delicious seasonal dishes at his restaurant in Michigan. But perhaps what he is best-known for is the pizza he created when he was just a teenager.
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This Cajun Chicken Pizza Will Remind You Of Your Salad Days

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This Cajun Chicken Pizza Will Remind You Of Your Salad Days

This Cajun Chicken Pizza Will Remind You Of Your Salad Days

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Warning - what you hear next could be tempting.

JAMES JIMMY RIGATO: Seared scallop with smoked apple butter and pickled shallots and a little golden raisin.

CORNISH: And if that doesn't make your mouth water, how about this?

RIGATO: Steak tartar or a salmon lox plate, goat milk grits with some smoked, butter-poached shrimp. You know, we use all-natural, grass-fed beef from a local farm...

CORNISH: Very good food - that's what James Rigato is all about. He serves fresh, seasonal, local ingredients at his restaurant, The Root, in White Lake, Mich. But when we asked him to share a story for our Found Recipe series, Chef Rigato served up something a 16-year-old boy would love.

RIGATO: Jimmy's Cajun chicken pizza. It's the antithesis of everything I've worked for in my career (laughter).

CORNISH: No matter how many awards this 30-year-old wins, no matter how much buzz or recognition, Rigato cannot get away from his Cajun chicken pizza past. The pizza is not on his menu, but his staff will ask for it, and fellow chefs have made it for him at their restaurants - this pizza that he created when he was in high school.

RIGATO: The pizza tastes great, but in that gluttonous way. It just kind of hits every note, right - sweet, sour, salty, smoky, melty, crunchy. It's just the same reason why, you know, Taco Bell tastes so good at 2 in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIGATO: I'm 16, and I'm working in this pizza station at this kitchen - busy kitchen - I mean, 600 people a night - just getting our butts kicked. These guys in their late, mid-20s, and they're all drinking beer and they're spinning in their aprons and their towels and the flames, and I just remember walking in the kitchen and saying, there's no way I could ever do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIGATO: I was kind of the - almost like the employee meal guy. Half of what you were doing was to feed the staff. And we'd make pizzas for each other, and you'd come up with crazy things. And I started making this pizza with ranch as the sauce and, like, these marinated tomatoes and eating it myself and then sharing it with one guy. The next thing I know, he's splitting it with the guy in the fry station, and then, you know, he wants one to go home for his girlfriend. And before you know it, this pizza's just - everyone's eating it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIGATO: The chef came to me and, you know, he was excited about the pizza, and he said let's put it on the menu. At that time, I don't think any of the other cooks had created anything. They just kind of were duplicating. And that Cajun chicken pizza was, you know, it was the first time I got on a menu. It was like a wish granted.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIGATO: So when you're making the pizza, I like to use a focaccia-style dough, and I use ranch as the sauce. Use the Hidden Valley dry packet or some kind of modified version of it, and I like to use creme fraiche or yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Try to stay away from mayonnaise. I don't like cooked mayonnaise. I barely like mayonnaise at all, let alone cooked.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIGATO: A four-cheese blend with, you know, mozzarella, pecorino, fontina, roasted pulled-chicken pieces tossed in a little olive oil and the Cajun spice. And then the marinated tomatoes kind of drizzled on top, maybe with a slotted spoon so you don't get too much of the balsamic and olive oil. That's about it. It's a pretty simpe 16-year-old's creative pizza.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Chef James Jimmy Rigato of The Root restaurant in White Lake, the Mich. You can find details about his Cajun chicken pizza on our Found Recipes page at npr.org.

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