When it comes to Italian-style cooking in Providence, everyone will point towards Atwells Avenue. But across the river, South Water Street contains a small hub of Providence’s finest. Right in the thick of it is the beautiful, dark and cozy restaurant Mile and a Quarter. Looking out over the Providence River and the competitive restaurants along the street, chef David Ashworth describes his passion for cooking every dish with precision. He started running kitchens when he was 20-years-old, and aims to be the finest grill chef in the state.
Where did you cut your teeth before Mile and a Quarter?
I became the head chef at John Carlo’s when I was 20-years-old. It was definitely the best life experience possible for me. I got to learn Italian flair, the old school authentic way, and it stuck. I was there for 13 years. I had to lead at a young age and quickly refine my cooking style. The grill was in the middle of the dining room, so I got to meet almost every customer while running the kitchen. It was hectic, but something I felt very comfortable doing.
Running a kitchen is very special to you. What makes all your hard work worthwhile?
When I’m in the kitchen, I feel like I’m in my domain. I like being busy, feeling that sense of control and precision. Cooking everything from scratch and feeding a whole dining room authentic food… it’s exciting. When guests are leaving and say thank you just because they appreciate our cooking makes it all worth it. I can also be creative. I can do what I want, when I want. It’s freedom.
Is there a favorite cooking technique you like to use?
Definitely the grill. I aim to be one of the top echelon grill chefs in the state. I’d love to take Bobby Flay on (that’s a personal goal of mine). I just love grilling. I’ve been doing it so long it’s like second nature now. There’s a lot of pressure, too. You have money in your hands so you can’t mess it up. When you cook a good steak or a grilled fish there’s nothing else like it.
What are you trying to capture with the menu selection at Mile and a Quarter?
We’re trying to bring that old school Italian cuisine to the city. To give people the tastes and flavors that were strong in Providence for so long. We want to be the ones to bring it back. We try to give the best ingredients and authentic experiences while still getting a bang for your buck.
Do you have any favorite ingredients you come back to time and time again?
Well, you need to have garlic, butter, tomatoes and fresh basil. After you nail down those core ingredients, you can basically play around with anything and get creative. But don’t take the dish farther than it has to go. I’m a big believer in simplicity. I think chefs try to do so much with dishes these days. It’s like a seesaw – you’re even for awhile and then you add that one ingredient that tips it over. If you try too hard, you lose the dish. Simple taste and flavor is the most important. You’re buying well-cooked steak, not the sauce on top.
Is there one dish you’d recommend to a new guest?
I’d have to go with two. The Lobster Ravioli is the best around. It’s a nice pink cream sauce, bountiful lobster-stuffed raviolis, roasted asparagus and seared sea scallops. Everything on the dish is large and loud. It shows our flavor, excitement and passion in the kitchen.
Also, our ribeye. I think we have the best cut steak in the city. It’s all choice prime. You never hide it, just flavor it with a little bit with butter. It’s one of those great steaks that will catch your eye if you’re a true meat eater.
Are there certain characteristics a chef needs to run a successful kitchen?
You have to go all in on everything. You never know who’s judging you or tasting you. When you cook a dish, you have to make it the best it can be. The opportunity is on the plate. But, overall, you have to strive to be the best. You’re only as good as your competition. Look outside the window: to the right, Bacaro and Capriccio, to the left, Al Forno. You really can’t get into the fire any deeper than that. But that’s what draws out the best in me and my staff. We keep a high standard.
Is there one thing you harp on when it comes to cooking and serving guests your creations?
Presentation is big. You eat with your eyes. If it looks good, it’s going to taste good, too. You want to show how much work went into cooking each plate. The cleaner the plate, the more attentive you seem. Give each guest the reassurance that you took the time to handle their individual dish with care. Your guests can judge you off one plate. They can tell your character, see your sense of pride in what you do, how you create.
334 S Water Street Providence