When it comes to a challenge, Pizza LUPO chef and co-owner Max Balliet is no stranger. He thrives off testing himself in the kitchen, building his culinary knowledge through travel, real-life experiences and delving into the rich cultural history that greatly influences his food. This passion inspired Balliet to step outside the Louisville, Ky., norm and bring southern Italian cuisine and, more specifically, true Neapolitan pizza to the Derby City.
Born in Palo Alto, Ca., Balliet’s family moved to Louisville when he was 5. He started in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher at Primo when he was 18. At Primo, he saw the same wood-fired oven he had seen on a trip to Italy. Working under legendary restauranteur Bim Dietrich, Balliet’s curiosity and passion led him to line cook and to the eternal flame of the pizza oven.
Pizza continued to be a prominent foundation of Balliet’s early culinary career until he began at the Blind Pig as a sous chef to further his charcuterie experience. In 2011, Balliet decided it was time to start his own business, completely switching cuisines to launch the popular taco truck Holy Molé.
Holy Molé bolstered Balliet’s culinary experience, but also his business acumen. One of the first trucks of Louisville food truck boom, Balliet faced regulatory obstacles, attending city council meetings when the city restricted food truck parking. The local food truck owners won significant battles in court thanks to the support of Balliet and other chefs, and his influence is reflected in the city’s thriving food truck industry.
Today, Balliet leads the Pizza LUPO kitchen with a mission to craft the truest form of Italian cuisine and to showcase the culinary traditions of different Italian regions. He prides himself on serving fresh handmade pasta and being the only chef in the city to cook Neapolitan pizza at the traditional 900-degree wood-fired temperature.