Christian Petroni Launches An Edible NFT And Takes Lessons From Guy Fieri - Exclusive Interview

If you're a fan of Food Network's competition cooking shows, then you probably recognize Christian Petroni. The Bronx-born Italian-American chef has competed on "Chopped," "Food Network Star" (which he co-won with Jess Tom), "Tournament of Champions," and several Guy Fieri shows. He's also one of the few competitors who's also a judge, most notably on "Chopped." In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Petroni filled us in on his latest venture; he's teamed up with Steve Raggiani, the co-founder and CEO of 8it, a New York City (exclusively, at present) foodie app for finding great places to mangia (Think of it as a professionally curated version of Yelp). 

On Pi Day, March 14th, tickets go on sale for their Edible NFT (via for entry to members-only Petroni's Pizza pop-ups, the first of which is March 20th at a secret NYC location and will feature Petroni's famous Garlic Butter Sicilian pizza. Other perks that come with the Edible NFT include access to future pop-ups worldwide, merchandise with Petroni's Gabagool brand, secret Petroni family recipes, and other goodies.  Hospitality is in Petroni's soul, and he wants each NFT owner to feel cared for, so only 500 Edible NFTs will be sold.

In person, Petroni is a humble, big-hearted, and gregarious guy who is deeply thankful for all the good things that have happened to him. During our interview, he talked about his success on Food Network, the influential summers he spent as a boy on a tiny island in Italy, and his mentorship with Guy Fieri.

Christian Petroni's summers in Italy shaped his career

How did your family background influence you to become a chef?

Being a first generation Italian-American, growing up in that Italian-American/Bronx, first-generation type of household, which there's a lot of folks out there that can relate, I'm very grateful for my upbringing, and food is a big part of it. For me, it wasn't like the old school story of [how] I was at my mother's apron strings. I really wasn't. I loved to eat the food.

When we would go to Italy to see our family out there, we'd go for the summers. We didn't have a lot going on in the summer, so we would go out there so my father could work. We'd go live with my aunts and uncles and my Nonno and Nonna. That's where we would really experience the real authentic Italian food — let's call it "island cuisine." Then, there was the Italian-American red sauce joint. We had my house five o'clock dinner, you had Ponza. Then you had red-sauce joints, which wasn't the food that was cooked at home. It wasn't the food that was cooked in Ponza, [Italy]. That's its own category.

What is island cuisine?

Ponza is an island that's about three and a half miles long. It's very small. It's very beautiful. The mascot of Ponza is the pesce spada, swordfish. When I say "island cooking," I'm thinking about meals cooked by my Zia Gizella, who's still out there right now cooking. She would get my uncle Louis squid, God rest his soul, and she will cut the squid and braise it in spicy tomato sauce for hours until it's tender, then serve it with spaghetti. [Other examples are] going down to the local restaurant down the street, and getting a penne with swordfish eggs, or getting these little fried shrimp that you eat the whole thing.

As a kid, [I would walk] down to the local bar and getting a Chinotto soda, which is the bitter Italian soda, and eating a cornetto or a brioche, or having a fiori di fregola, a cornetto and Nutella. These things for me, pasta e fagioli, pasta e lenticchie, lentil soup, bean stews — then I'd be craving a ham sandwich in the middle of the summer. The closest thing my mother would be able to put together would be a little rosetta bun, with some prosciutto cotto, provolone, and some mustard. I'm really grateful for that part of my childhood. It's almost like ... taking away all the things that we know for two months and replacing it with all different things that we know, and we're learning about, and probably underappreciating at the time.

Christian Petroni knew he wanted to be a chef when he was a boy

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

Back in the day, when I was a little kid, channel 19 was Nickelodeon, and channel 20 was Discovery Channel. I can pinpoint when I decided I really wanted to cook. It was around the first grade. I would always switch between Nickelodeon and Discovery, hoping to see the show on Discovery Channel called "Great Chefs of the World" that I really loved. It started there. It wasn't like I wanted — I never thought in a million years — nor tried or set any goals to be on television. It was really more about setting the goal to have my own restaurant. The way everything has happened, it's been quite a wild ride. It really started with seeing that show, "Great Chefs of the World," and being introduced to food television really early. I remember Bobby Flay on the roof, in that old show that he used to do. That's got to be years ago. I did watch "Galloping Gourmet." I loved [Graham Kerr].

I feel like I just missed Julia. For some reason, I didn't catch any of the Julia Child stuff as a kid. It's funny, because it's a different mindset. I don't want to knock anybody's mindset, or anyone's goals because it's important to go for them. Maybe that's why some of us could be a little rough around the edges. We're chefs, but we never really were forefront in people's minds and hearts, so it's a great thing for us.

It's a great shift. Sometimes, people forget that there's a lot of hard work. All I ever wanted to do was own restaurants, then I got to that point. I got some hard lessons learned, when it comes to business partners — possibly trying not to have any for the rest of my life, other than my wife. The universe at the same time was doing its own thing. As I was doing restaurants, the television, and [the] Food Network world started to get more exciting for me, and started to pick up more and more.

Christian Petroni's first show was Chopped

Your first show was "Chopped"?

I competed in Season 2 or 3, which was so early. They must have filmed 500 episodes since then. God, maybe more. I was invited back to judge, which is another crazy universe thing, because you don't see a lot of contestants that got invited back to judge. I remember scratching my head, being very grateful for Beth Schiff, legendary Casting Director for Food TV, and Vivian Sorenson, legendary Television Producer for Food Network, and the core people for "Chopped." I credit them for inviting me to judge. They really were there in the beginning and for most of it of that incredible show, that's still running strong today. It started with that.

Then, a few years pass. I'm doing TV here and there. I end up doing a show called "Food Network Star" that I won. That put me on a path that was very similar to Guy Fieri. Guy had four restaurants when he won "Food Network Star." I had five. We both got screwed out of them, at the same time of winning "Food Network Star." I got the call [that] Guy wanted to check me out after the "Food Network Star." I went out there. I did an episode of Triple G ("Guy's Grocery Games"). Really, the rest is history. I've been working consistently since then and loved the work. Loved it. Now, Discovery Channel is essentially my employer, which is really a full circle.

Did you win that particular episode of "Chopped" you were on?

Yeah. That first episode.

And then casting called you in to judge?

Yeah. I say it to this day and I told them, I just finished filming "Guy's Chance of a Lifetime," and it just aired. Vivian Sorenson was one of the people who really gave me my chance on "Chopped." Then, I dove head first into Guy Fieri World, that I absolutely love being in. Guy brings in people. He knows how to bring in good people and surround himself with good people. Then, all of a sudden, I hear that Viv is working on the show with Guy. I was like, "Now, here you are in my other world. My West Coast world. Viv, you're my East Coast world."

The whole thing's nuts. It's full circle. It's a perfect example of "always be good to everybody," 'cause everyone comes back around. The whole thing is never lost on me. When I'm sitting in a trailer that's there for me, it's not lost on me. When the car picks me up, when I take a flight, and everything's taken care of ... None of this that's going on right now, is lost on me.

Christian Petroni's journey to winning "Food Network Star"

Were you cast for "Food Network Star" because of the "Chopped" experience?

Yeah, at that point. I was doing mostly "Chopped." I had probably judged, at that point, a dozen to two dozen episodes of "Chopped." Until this day, I just finished, what just aired was a casino tournament where I was the head judge, five episodes, for five weeks straight, which was a lot of fun. That was a week ago, so "Chopped" is still a part of my life. 

[For] "Food Network Star," I was on the radar of Food Network at that point. I didn't want to go. It was a month and a half in California. I had never been to California at that point. I had a six-month-old son, who's now four. I was pretty sure my wife was going to be like, "You crazy? You're not leaving for a month and a half." That maniac, who I love, was like, "You got to do it" ... and I pushed it off, like I do everything else ... Long story short, I ended up signing the contract by accident, via a former assistant. They put the last page in a pile of papers that I was signing. Pretty incredible story.

At that point, I was in. We were doing it. I went, and I'm so happy I did it for so many reasons. A, 'cause I won, which was great. Even now, what it's done for me, the food competition is a part of my life. A lot of people's lives on TV, you can choose not to do it. You can choose not to compete, and I respect that. I like it now, even when I would do "Chopped" back in the day, I'd go back for special episodes to compete. You'd get this anxiety. You almost don't want to do it. It almost becomes this dread to compete. You almost want to [say], "Hey, I got that off my plate. I did that already."

"Food Network Star" put me in a head space where anytime now, where I get the call for any sort of potential competition — not because I'm competitive, I'm not. Trust me, I'm in my own bubble — but I actually enjoy it. I have fun doing it. I really enjoy it. I hope to be able to continue to do it this way and to do more. That's all I really want to do. This is something that's a big part of my life.

Edible NFT and Petroni's Pizza Party

Let's talk about Edible NFT and the launch of Petroni's Pizza Party. How did that come about?

Me and Steve [Raggiani, owner of 8it] were talking about doing pop-ups. We've done stuff together. I love 8it. I love the 8it app. Steve's one of those dudes, and the 8it team, are those kinds of folks where they love to push the envelope. They love to do fun stuff. They love to be a big part of our support community for restaurants, and for chefs. I reached out to him about, "Hey, let's do this pop-up." He said, "What if we did it like this?"

Then he said, "What dish should we highlight?" I [chose the] Garlic Butter Sicilian, it's like a mashup of my New York Style Sicilian I grew up with on 241st and White Plains Road and Dominos pan pizza. I love it. It is a perfect Frankenstein of a pizza to me. I said, "We got to highlight this baby. We got to do this." Off we went. You got David Schwen, who's the Creative Director of Pepsi, who did the artwork in old school Claymation style. It pulls at a couple different heartstrings, oe of them being, obviously, the Abominable Snowman, Rudolph, the old Christmas Claymation cartoon.

The artwork is super cool. We were talking about this the other day. All these years now, we've been going to restaurants, taking pictures of our dish, posting it on Instagram ... Owning an NFT like this one, that is tied to an actual physical piece of food that you're going to try, it almost becomes the next variation of, here's proof of what I ate. This is it. I went to this pop-up, I had this pizza, I had this garlic bread ... It's a fun, incredible new way to support creators and people that are trying to be creative.

With this NFT alone, we have artists involved. We have marketing people involved, computer people involved. My nephew is involved, helping out on the [Discord server]. It creates so many opportunities ... These cats are working on their phone, on Discord, making money, helping moderate stuff, and do things. There's jobs that are being created right now that have never existed before ... The more you dive into it, this whole scenario of where the future of food and NFTs are going, it's more and more exciting. I love it all.

The NFT project is a reset for Christian Petroni

I see this NFT project as a great way to really sort of like, I'm hospitality at heart. We're restaurant people. Hospitality is something that's still very important to me. I see this, for me, utilizing NFTs to be able to offer my form of hospitality, whether it be via a pop-up somewhere that's tied to it, or whether it's a private invite. 

I'll show you. I don't have all my furniture yet, but this is Gabagool Studios. It's a thousand-square foot studio. We're putting a new kitchen back there. It's a place to create content, and have fun art, to invite people that care about what's going on in our lives, or what's going on at the studio, what we're cooking.

We're creating a very cool digital version of it, where we'd love to have digital hangouts. Anyone in the world, we can all sit down in here with our headsets on. Chill out, and have conversations about food, or life, or whatever the heck anyone wants to talk about. I've been beat up pretty good in the restaurant world. I'm ready to do a hard reset and really stick to my guns on the way that I'm choosing to sow the seeds for the rest of my career, and the rest of my life. 

It's all very exciting. I'm grateful for friends, who really have taken the time to educate me, and to push me in the right directions, to go harder and to be better. Talking to you, this is great. This whole thing is great that anyone even cares enough to even talk to me. Are you kidding me? I love it.

Guy Fieri is Christian Petroni's mentor

What's your favorite go-to fast food?

My God, Domino's.

What ingredient can't you live without?


What chef would you like have to cook for you?

Guy? I feel like I've had my idol. I've sat at Guy Fieri's counter in his house, and he's cooked for me. That was my idol. That is my idol.

You seem to have a good friendship with Guy Fieri.

Mentorship. He's the big brother I've needed and that I have. He introduces me as his little brother. We were at South Beach Food and Wine, and he pulls me over. He's talking to José Andrés, and he pulls me over. I had never met José Andrés at that point. He's like, "This is my little brother." I'm like, "What planet are we on, man?" How many nights, at least me, how many nights have you woken up on the couch, that you fell asleep on the middle of the night, to Guy's voice, cooking something on Triple D ["Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives"]? The whole thing is surreal. Like I said earlier, really not lost on me. We're not there yet. We still got a lot of work to do.

Christian Petroni has big plans for his Edible NFT

Anything else you want to add?

You're going to be seeing me doing this Sicilian slice via quarter size pies in Gold Belly, along with garlic bread. Very soon. There's even going to be a tie-in. We're still working it out on the back end, Steve and I, and Gold Belly. We're going to be working in tie-ins, and we're even talking about doing some digital stuff with them and through our dishes. 

That's another thing, it's very limited with 500 of these NFTs. It's because we really want to offer the hospitality and the care to the people that are buying them. It's not like, "Oh no, you can't get it. You're out. It's lost." No, we want to get this to the world. We're going to start with the country, and Gold Belly's going to be that. You'll be able to order this stuff straight to your house. Order a Gabagool t-shirt while you're at it, maybe. It'll be good.

For more information about purchasing an Edible NFT to Petroni's Pizza Party, visit You can follow Christian Petroni's continuing culinary adventures on Instagram.