2014 Winner: Best Dessert
Lawrence DeFranza Jr.
Larry was literally “born into” the business of making amazing food. Larry’s grandparents were from the Campania region of Italy and came to the US with hopes and dreams for a new and better life. They also brought with them a long tradition of bringing family together with food. Over the years, Larry watched his mother, Carmella, in the kitchen. This is where his passion for cooking really began. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Superior, with an business management degree, he returned to his hometown of Dobbs Ferry, NY. Unsure of his exact career path, and with a new wife and baby girl, he took over as head chef in his parent’s restaurant, Jimmie’s. This is when he began to truly develop as a chef and creator of food. While using most of his family’s traditional recipes, Larry also began to develop his own dishes based on the traditional ones he had grown up eating. Larry ran the kitchen at Jimmie’s for over 20 years. After closing the restaurant in NY, he and his wife, Nola, began to travel the country seeking new adventures and job opportunities on the management side of the restaurant business.
After moves to Colorado and Oklahoma, they found themselves with an opportunity in Appleton, WI! Larry helped to open Carmella’s, an italian bistro with his two daughters, Nicole and Kristen and son-in-law, Kyle, in November of 2009. He continues to oversee operations in the kitchen with the help of kitchen manager and pastry chef, Kari Mueller. Larry created the menu at Carmella’s with the idea that he would respectfully honor the family recipes while offering modern twists on traditional Italian fare. He and his daughters also feel that it is very important to use locally made ingredients and products to when possible to help support the community that so generously supports Carmella’s. After a brief time away this past summer to have both knees replaced, Larry is right back at it each and every morning to make fresh our house marinara sauce which is the staple of so many of our delicious dishes. He looks forward to the continued success of Carmella’s and of our jarred House Marinara, Bolognese and Arrabbiata. And coming soon… our House Tomato Cream! These are now being sold at retail stores and shops throughout Wisconsin and are made without preservatives and to exact specifications of his recipes. He is truly grateful to have realized two of his dreams, having a restaurant with his daughters and making his sauce available to much broader audience. Larry will continue to strive to make Carmella’s the best it can be, never settling for less then perfection.
Kari Mueller grew up in the Appleton area and always had dreams of being a chef. After high school, Kari took some time to travel the country and seek new and different experiences. Upon returning home, Kari attended the Fox Valley Technical College for the Culinary Arts. After graduating with an Associates Degree, Kari accepted her first job in a real kitchen as Sous Chef at Buttes des Mortes Country Club in Appleton. Kari spent over ten years here and truly developed her skills as a chef. In between, Kari had jobs in many different kitchens, and while she loved being a chef, she longed to hone and develop her skills as a pastry chef, something she had never had schooling for.
When approached with the idea for Carmella’s, Kari saw the opportunity she had been waiting for. Carmella’s needed a chef who could manage the kitchen while preparing our house made desserts each and every day. She was given the very difficult task of taking traditional Italian desserts and giving them a new look and taste. She was asked to create the dessert menu at Carmella’s, where the philosophy was to make everything in house. Kari did just that and has quickly become one of the best pastry chefs in the Fox Valley, already having established herself as one of the best chefs in the years prior. Her ability to create amazing desserts that taste incredible and look like works of art, put her in a class of her own. Her cupcakes have become a sort of cultish phenomenon and her ability to combine flavors that would seem unlikely keeps her and the guests at Carmella’s guessing and waiting for their next and new favorite. Kari continues to live and raise a family in Appleton with her husband, Kurt, and their two children, Helena and Shea. She is excited to continue her journey at Carmella’s as a chef and pastry chef, always looking forward to new challenges and always willing to test herself and her abilities to become better.