Left: Phil Iannuccilli, Executive Chef at Greenwich Country Club, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA.
Right: Prosciutto, Figs & Biscotti prosciutto-figs-biscotti.html
I am an Australian ex-pat, and I have lived in Connecticut for 18 years and have traveled to over 48 countries covering chefs in private golf and country clubs. It comes with great joy that I am featuring my first home state Executive Chef Phil Iannuccilli, and the prestigious Greenwich Country Club ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up on Long Island. As a kid, I never thought being a professional chef was even something to consider. My father was a New York City detective, and my mom was a homemaker, or “nurturer”, she liked to say. I attended Chaminade high school and worked part-time at a local restaurant. At some point, I realized that I liked the restaurant business. I liked the interaction with the customers. I enjoyed the mechanics of it, from open to close, every aspect. So, I decided to study management and continued working. When I was nineteen, I was trained, and became a manager. I did everything, from scheduling, to purchasing, to mopping the floors at the end of the day. I learned how to control costs. I learned how to motivate people. At one point, they decided to put in a salad bar, and the cooks didn’t really know what to do. The boss said to me, “go get a book, and make some salads.” I went to the bookstore, I bought a book and started making salads. There were eighteen holes in that salad bar. Every day, I made eighteen distinctly different, perfect salads… and they were always delicious. I was meticulous about it. I had exact quantities, rotating backups, and it was impeccably clean. I had a friend, who left the restaurant to go to culinary school at Johnson and Wales. He stopped in to visit and saw what I was doing. He was visibly surprised. He watched for a while. Then he said, “you have talent, you should go to culinary school.” Almost immediately, I switched gears and was studying at The Culinary Arts Center at New York Tech.
GK: What led you to Country Clubs?
When I started culinary school, I didn’t have any professional cooking experience. My first instructor said, “I have a friend you can work for at Cold Spring Country Club. You can get some hands-on experience while going to school.” So, I worked there, and I learned a lot. The beauty of a club is that you gain experience in every area. I worked breakfast, lunch, dinner, weddings, barbecues, social events and holidays. You gain experience in both a la carte and buffet styles of service. It’s all good. Eventually, I got to the point where I had to choose a place to do my externship. I wanted to learn from the best.
GK: Where did you decide to go?
My school was celebrating Bastille Day, and I was in the kitchen. There were lots of local celebrities in the dining room. There were a few politicians and well-known chefs at the time. I said to my instructor, “who’s the best chef out there?” He opened the door so we could peek out, and he said, “you see that guy, that’s Guy Reuge from Mirabelle, he is by far the best chef on Long Island!” I snuck over to him, when no one was looking. I crouched down next to him, introduced myself, and said, “I need a place to do my externship, and I would really love to work for you.” I gave him my resume, which had almost nothing on it. He called me the next day and said, “you come Tuesday, and we’ll do pastry”. I’ll never forget it. Mirabelle was in St. James, New York, and it was a true temple of gastronomy. The whole time, I couldn’t believe I was working for a real French Chef - a great one! It was amazing. I did my apprenticeship, and then I stayed longer. I learned so many things. I learned, to be a great chef, you must know how to do everything. At Mirabelle, I made ice cream and sorbets, I made puff pastry and hot soufflés. I made duck confit, duck rillette and duck prosciutto. I worked every station. I learned how a real, reduced veal stock should taste and feel on your tongue. I have so many memories, and throughout my career, I’ve often thought back to how we did it at Mirabelle.
GK: What happened after that?
I reached a point in my curriculum where I could no longer stay at Mirabelle. I had a friend who had just started working for Brendan Walsh at Coyote Grill. Brendan was a rock star chef. He was nationally recognized, and one of the best chefs of his generation. I walked into his kitchen and introduced myself. He was cutting up a fruit. He said, “do you know what this is?” I said, “it’s a papaya.” He then told me how no one in my life will ever understand or appreciate the path that I chose. Then I went to work. Brendan was a bold American chef and what I learned from him was that an American chef can be just as good, if not better, than any other chef in the world. I’ll always appreciate that. I worked on the line, while still in school. I graduated with honors, first in my class. Almost immediately, they offered me the pastry chef position. I could now work full time and I was supplying two busy restaurants with all their breads, pastry, cakes, pies and plated desserts. I stayed for more than a year, but I still wanted to learn more.
GK: So, what did you do next?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for some continuing studies. I traveled the west coast and landed a job at Square One, in San Francisco. After returning to New York, I took the pastry chef position at a two-storied supper club on the upper east side of Manhattan. Soon after, they fired the chef and said, “We want you to be the chef.” I knew I could do it, so I said yes. In Manhattan, I held several Head Chef and Pastry Chef positions at various New York City Restaurants - Oceana, One If By Land, Two If By Sea and Sutton Grill, to name a few. This became a pattern going forward - I could work in any capacity. I could work as a full-time pastry chef or as a head chef and train other people to do pastry. As a matter of fact, I’m certified by The American Culinary Federation as both a Certified Executive Chef and Certified Executive Pastry Chef, which is quite rare.
GK: Can you tell us a highlight of your career?
After I got married, I met a real pro. He had worked all over the world. He spoke five languages. He and his wife were relocating and rebuilding their restaurant in Nassau County. It was called Maxxels. It had great style. He told me, “you can showcase your talents, you can do whatever you want”. I was sold. I remember, it started off a bit slow. Then, out of nowhere, someone spotted the food critic from The New York Times, in the dining room.. I began pacing like a lion, waiting for that ticket to come in. I was all over it. I made every dish myself. She returned two more times, for a total of three visits. Then I received a phone call. We talked for quite a while. She asked me lots of questions. She ended by saying, “you better get ready, I’m giving you an excellent rating”. When the review came out, it said, “The genius in the kitchen sending out this United Nations of tastes is Phil Iannuccilli”. That day, the phone started ringing and it didn’t stop for two full years. We were packed every single night. We did two hundred and fifty dinners, every night, off a three-man line. It was glorious!
GK: You got the international travel bug, tell us where that began.
I always wanted to see the world and work overseas. My wife is from Indonesia and I wanted to see where she grew up. My son was one, and I figured I could go for a few years before he had to start school. So, we packed up and landed in Jakarta. I secured a two-year contract at a five-star hotel, as chef de cuisine of the fine dining restaurant. During this time, we traveled all over Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam. After successfully completing my contract, we flew directly to London. There I had the great pleasure of working at The Duke of Cambridge, London’s first and only certified organic pub. After London, I worked at Comerç 24, in Barcelona. There I got an inside look at traditional Catalan cuisine and the Michelin starred wizardry of present-day Spain.
GK: You’ve been at Greenwich Country Club for five years. What do you love most about it?
I’ve had a great deal of success here. What I love most about the club is that it provides endless opportunities to do great things. You can design a great market table, or a themed flight of dishes, you can do down home rustic cooking, at the same time you’re plating Michelin starred works of art. One member might go to the pool and tell me how much they loved the fish taco. Another might go to a wine dinner and tell me how much they loved the stuffed rabbit loin. There are so many opportunities to cook at different levels, in different styles, from casual to spectacular.
GK: Tell us about any new plans you have at Greenwich Country Club?
We recently started an in-house dry aging program. We assigned a specific walk-in, just for that purpose. It’s a perfect environment. We’re currently serving 30-day dry aged ribeyes. We have an extensive amuse-bouche collection, and we bake our own breads. Our dessert and pastry offerings continue to change. We just added a coffee house semifreddo, with a chocolate fudge center and a roasted banana rum caramel. We also added my famous “Nuts of Dough”, which are fresh-fried beignets, served with two dipping sauces… perfect for sharing. Our house-made petits fours include chocolate truffles, Florentina, candied orange and designer marshmallows. All a la carte pastas are made by hand. We’re currently working on fresh-made whole wheat and gluten-free pasta. We’re playing around with our pizza crust to offer a variety of alternatives. We’re building our salumi and charcuterie offerings. Currently, we make our own hot dogs, terrines, pâtés, rillettes, jerky… this will continue to develop. We’re also doing more and more wine dinners, popup restaurants and dining excursions.
GK: What programs have you introduced, during COVID-19, that will continue?
We started creating market baskets with high- end grocery items that our members can pick up and take home. This also included hot and cold prepared foods. It became very popular. Eventually, it will evolve into gourmet baskets of our own proprietary products. Every week we do a new take-home kit. At the moment, most of them are outdoor friendly. They change every week and have quickly become a club staple. We also just added weekday family meal plans, which are a take-home three course meal of comfort food favorites.
The 18th green overlooking the back of the clubhouse at Greenwich Country Club, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA
Image by Image by Henry Cardenas