Chef. Restaurateur. Pizzaiolo.
Tony Conte, the hospitality vet who left Oval Room in early 2015 and launched self-styled Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana a few months later, has gone by many names throughout his culinary career. But it’s taken until now, having opened his first solo restaurant just two miles from his home in Gaithersburg, Md., for Conte to fully get back to his roots — both figuratively and literally.
The pie slinging he did as a youth may, to the untrained eye, vaguely resemble what goes on in the kitchen of the neighborhood joint he operates at 12207 Darnestown Road. But his philosophy about cooking has changed significantly even since Conte’s last high-profile gig.
“There’s actually more effort going into sourcing local stuff than I did at Oval Room,” he asserts.
Conte is so gung ho about controlling every last bit of what shows up on each customer’s plate that he’s now contemplating personally working the soil.
He copped to owning about four acres of fenced-in property that he said receives a decent amount of sunlight. Assuming a handy neighbor remains available to pitch in (as promised), Conte shared plans to grow “something” this year — although he declined to specify whether the initial crop might include herbs, vegetables, or a mix thereof.
“We just need some help making sure we do it right,” he said of his latest ambition.
A self-described perfectionist, Conte expressed a desire to hone every aspect of the dining experience at Inferno.
He broke with tradition by eschewing the Antico Molino Caputo “00” flour favored by other pizza shops. “I’m never content … we’re always trying new flours,” he said of the ongoing experimentation. And he’s applied the same due diligence to featured dairy. (“Still hunting for the perfect cheese,” he shared.)
Refining every single bite that flows from his kitchen means Cone has had to do more homework.
He’s actively networking with local farmers and artisan producers to firm up his supply chain; he hopes to one day locally source the entire menu.
Till then, he’ll continue making his own fun by juggling a regular menu, his carry-out business and the multi-course tasting dinners eagerly awaited by the 200-plus people who’ve subscribed to his rapidly ballooning mailing list.
“Tasting menus break up the monotony of making pizza,” Conte said, adding, “It’s been fun to see it evolve.”