Bocconcini may mean “small bites” in Italian, but this new restaurant in the Gayborhood is a big step in Crystal Fox’s culinary career. Learn how the former Chopped chef is cooking up creative dishes in the community, and what she thinks about being a woman in an industry often infamous for inequality issues.
Congratulations on your newest venture with Bocconcini. What can eaters expect? A fun, laid back vibe. I wanted to try to achieve everything Giorgio on Pine got to be known for — good food, great service, gluten-free options — but in a more intimate setting.
How did you pick the name of your restaurant? A name is everything. It has to encapsulate everything your place is trying to be. I kept coming back to a note I wrote down on a piece of paper awhile back: Bocconcini. When you look up the definition, you first see it’s used for small, bite-sized pieces of mozzarella. But it’s also used in Italy to mean “mouthful,” and I thought that was perfect.
Why Italian food and why gluten-free friendly? It seems synonymous to me, actually. In the United States, being gluten-free is sometimes seen as a joke or claims of it “being fake.” But in Italy, it’s actually a very different story. There is an overwhelming public awareness of Celiac disease/gluten sensitivities. There are over 4,000 gluten-free restaurants recognized by the Italian Celiac Association and the Italian government offers Celiac patients vouchers to buy gluten-free food.
What responsibilities go along with opening your own business? What do you like best about it? There isn’t enough time to explain it all… But I think mostly about my staff. I constantly think about them and if they are happy. If the staff is happy then they make the guests happy, and if everyone is happy then so am I.
When did you first know you wanted to be a chef? I always consider myself the accidental cook. I grew up in a very American household; it was hamburger helper, shake and bake chicken, and canned corn in the Fox household. There is nothing wrong with that, but I also didn’t see food as anything “special” until about 10 years ago, when I met my now-girlfriend. We starting going out to a lot of restaurants, and I began to see food. I began to see it as something more, something that can be an experience.
You were a competitor in Season 7 of Chopped. What was that experience like? It feels like a million lifetimes ago, and I feel like a completely different person since the show. It was a great experience and I’m glad I was able to do something so special and unique, but when I look at the show it feels like this out-of-body experience. I’m so much more composed than the person who was on that show. If the experience has taught me anything, it’s that you are only as good as your last dish. I left Chopped knowing I had a lot more to learn and a lot harder to push.
In the past, you’ve been very vocal in Philly’s LGBTQ community. Are you comfortable sharing more with us about what you’ve done for the community and the personal motivation behind it? I’ve always been very attached to the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia. Sisters Restaurant and Nightclub was my first job in the city, Giorgio on Pine and Bocconcini are both located in the Gayborhood, and I’ve lived in the Gayborhood for awhile as well. It’s a very close community that has helped me feel connected to something when I didn’t feel like I had anyone in my family. Once I got into a position in my life where I could return the favor, I did. Giorgio and I both implemented making weekly food donations to The Attic Youth Center. We’ve given to William Way Community Center. We give discounted food to Gay Bingo, and we’re yearly participants in Dining Out for Life with Action Wellness. We want to be more than just a place located in this neighborhood — we want to be active contributors to the community as well.
Are you working on any other advocacy projects right now? I’m interested in raising more awareness for mental health issues in the hospitality community.
What’s your advice to other women who are working hard to hone their own crafts?
Keep pushing and don’t get discouraged. Just keep your head down and keep learning. Never listen to the big mouth on the line because, in my experience, the person with the biggest mouth has the least skill. Skill just shows, no need to talk about it. Keep pushing yourself. Read everything related to your trade and stay current. Women are often seen as “lesser than” in the hard conditions of the kitchen, but never believe it.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? Sleep. On my one day off I’m with my girlfriend, who is also a chef, and we Netflix and chill. We have date nights. But yeah, sleep. Did I mention sleep?