Updated Interview: Anthony Giacoponello, Executive Chef, Sebonack Golf Club, Southampton, New York. Oxtail Ravioli recipe featured in Golf Kitchen.
I first met Anthony Giacoponello in 2010 when I featured Sebonack Golf Club in my first book, Golf Club World - Behind the Gates. I am in awe of Anthony’s culinary training, from Ducasse, Boulud, Kunz, Portale and more. I have worked with many of these chefs myself, and I know how passionate and committed you need to be to keep up the pace in a kitchen under their watch. ~ Diana Delucia
Anthony, tell us a little about how you became a chef and where you’ve worked.
My first endeavor in a kitchen was during junior high school. My father Joseph, who is a very close friend of Sirio Maccioni through business, arranged for me to stage for two weeks at the famous Le Cirque restaurant. I was in awe as I walked through the kitchen just knowing the innovative food that was created in this kitchen. The chefs were very generous with their time with me, and it was truly an education. I will never forget when I was cleaning the sea scallops next to the Poissonnier and feeling the scallop twinge as I sliced it very thin for the famous sea scallop “black tie.” That’s how fresh their products were!
After I graduated from high school, I was fortunate to be able to work at the Grand Hotel Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken, Switzerland. I wanted to study hotel management, and my objective was to rotate through all the departments at the resort before I went to college for my degree. My first job was in the kitchen where everybody spoke German. The Executive Sous Chef was English, however, and thankfully took me under his wing. Over time, I became friends with everybody there because they wanted to know more about American culture and they realized that I genuinely enjoyed the work and loved the atmosphere. The comradery that came from that experience inspired me to continue in this field, and it was a special feeling to be a part of a superb culinary team.
Tell us about Marcus Samuelsson.
It was also in Interlaken at the hotel kitchen where I met Marcus Samuelsson. He was working his station and saw me trying to figure out what was going on. Fortunately for me, Marcus was raised in Sweden and spoke perfect English. We became close friends, hung out together, went to movies, etc. Even after I left Switzerland, he came to visit me in New York and stayed at my family’s home for a few days. We reunited a few years later when I worked a few months at Aquavit with Marcus. It was an experience I will never forget!
Gray Kunz is quite the man in the kitchen, what was it like working under him?
After returning home from Switzerland, I was fortunate enough to be able to stage at Lespinasse under Gray Kunz. As I cleaned the endless amount of baby artichokes, I kept my eyes and ears open because you didn’t know who may be working next to you. In this kitchen, the young chefs included Andrew Carmellini, Floyd Cardoz, and the Executive Sous Chef Troy Dupuy, for whom I would later work. It was there at Lespinasse where I got my first reality check when Chef Kunz said I had worked next to the entremetier long enough and would start the next day working the service. I was so nervous that I was there the next morning at 6 am before the start time of 8 am, and I got the whole station set up. The evening entremetier showed up and said I was doing a great job, and lets me put out the first ticket - what a rush! At the end of the day, I was rewarded with another tasting menu prepared by some of the most talented chefs in New York City. I knew I made a good impression, as the first course was three baby artichokes with a pairing knife with a side of Band-Aids!
Anthony, for someone who has all of this training, it’s impressive that you still chose to pursue a culinary degree.
It was at Lespinasse that I knew that I wanted to pursue this as a career. I attended the Culinary Institute of America
and graduated in the summer of 1995. After I had graduated, I decided to take a year and work in London, England. I started at the Hyde Park Hotel just to get my feet wet in London, and I experienced a whole different level of cooking. I then fought my way into Le Gavroche, which was the first Michelin-starred kitchen where I worked. The Chef was three star Michelin Chef Michel Roux. I didn’t know much about him when I started, but I had the highest regard for his focus on discipline and respect. After three weeks, I was offered a full-time position as a commis chef. I was over the moon until they realized I didn’t have any proper work papers and had to move on. My heart was broken, and the Chef saw it in my eyes as he broke the news to me. He thanked me for my efforts and told me never to give up, as he loved the passion I showed.
I went on to stage at Mosimann’s Belfry, under the direction of two star Michelin Chef Anton Mosimann. I learned how to cook food in a more natural way i.e. poaching fish in sea-like water and being able to get intense flavors out of each ingredient. I finished my time in London by working in one of the most famous hotels, The Dorchester. It was ironic that I got to work in the exact kitchen, though with different chefs and concepts, as Chef Anton Mosimann did when he earned his two Michelin stars.
When I got back to the States, I landed a position in the Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City with Alfred Portale. It was quite the place, doing 300 covers a night for dinner and 180 for lunch. Chef Alfred Portale was very precise with his cuts, flavors, and food quality. It was a great environment for my first “real job” in the industry. It was here I learned speed and consistency. Since then, I’ve tried to push my career by learning one significant thing at each place I worked to carry forward to my next experience.
Tell us about your stagiaire position at Le Louis XV with Alain Ducasse.
In 1998, I returned to Europe and went to Monaco and worked under the great Chef Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV for a year. He was very intimidating and, as a stagiaire, I never talked to him much. Even as well known a Chef as he is, he would walk through the kitchen to see if everything was going well with each chef, and we had to speak to him in French. Everything was done meticulously perfect. It was an eye-opening experience as the Europeans respect the culinary industry better than the Americans. When you work at a place like Le Louis XV, you are certainly well respected. The community respects the business and the man who owns it, which also turns into respect for everyone who works in the restaurant.
I also met Chefs Vincent Maillard and Tony Esnault at Le Louis XV. Tony kept to himself a lot, but we hung out after work often. He was a perfectionist and would yell at me if something was too big or too small, but he was a great mentor. It was an exciting time in my career. I learned a lot despite our language challenges because cooking was the common thread. Just to work in a place like that, and see it how it’s meant to be, was incredible.
Tell us about your time at Restaurant Daniel.
Towards the end of 1998, Chef Daniel Boulud was in Monaco having dinner in our restaurant and came into the kitchen. As he walked through the kitchen, he recognized me. I did my externship for school at the original restaurant Daniel where Café Boulud is today. During my externship, I had the opportunity to experience my first New York Times review.
While in school, I was doing countless hours of prep work and was given a job to prepare canapés. So as the final night came for the review, the New York Times reviewers came in and sat down. Chef Daniel was alerted to their arrival, and he ran off to get his notebook, as he kept track of what they had in the past, and he never wanted to repeat himself. He is that dedicated a chef! As he ran up to his office, I received the ticket for VIP canapés. Not giving too much thought, I quickly started filling the ticket. Just as the waiter walked out of the kitchen, Chef Daniel comes ripping out of his office yelling, “OK, WHAT TYPE OF CANAPES WILL WE SEND?” My heart sank as I told him that they went out to their table already. Needless to say, Chef Daniel was not very happy (He said it in the only way a Chef can say it). To my saving grace, he was awarded four stars from the New York Times, and there was even a mention of the tasty canapés that arrived swiftly and hot! Later that day in Monaco, he came up to me and offered me a position at his new restaurant in New York. I was ecstatic! I headed back to New York to work with Daniel Boulud at the new restaurant Daniel. I was part of the opening crew and was actually prepping for mock services while construction wheelbarrows were coming through. During my time there I was able to work on the first induction unit installed in a kitchen. It was really difficult to get the hang of it since it heated up pans in seconds and boiled water in mere minutes. I learned how to cook fast, and I honed in on my pasta rolling skills, as the different pasta shapes and kinds of ravioli were made from scratch. I fell in love with that art, and I worked at Daniel for a little over two years until after the millennium.
It sounds like your Dad is an interesting man and was a big influence in your life.
My dad Joseph lives in Garden City, New York in the same house I grew up in with my two sisters. My father worked in the hotel industry for over 30 years and was the CEO of Leading Hotels of the World before he retired. Without him, I would not have had the opportunities I had. He opened a lot of doors for me but made it clear it was up to me to go through them. It was the best way to do it in this industry. If people think you’re here because of someone you know, you experience a different acceptance and very little respect. But my passion and dedication for my work always produced results.
Getting back to your career, where did you go after Daniel?
After I had moved on from restaurant Daniel in late 2000, I realized I had submerged my entire life into working there, and I wanted something else. I staged at a few places looking for the right fit. I discovered I was used to working so meticulously, fast, and under extreme pressure that I would find myself chopping food just for the act of it as if I had to do something. I thought it was time for a little more balance in my life, and perhaps I may want a family one day.
I started at La Grenouille in the winter of 2000 as a Rotissuer. It was a classic iconic New York City French restaurant. It was also another very tough place to work. I focused my energy on cooking meat with different techniques. I even had to cook kidneys! I don’t like organ meat at all, nor have I ever eaten one, but I had to learn how to cook them and cook them well, even though we would only sell maybe three orders a week.
In 2001, I moved on to La Caravelle with Troy Depuy. He had been the Exec Sous Chef at Lespinasse when I was there, so I was able to get my foot in the door, and it was a seamless transition. I had only been there three weeks on September 11, 2001. Due to the economic reaction, the restaurant was only doing 10-20 people a night for a few weeks. I was nervous about my position, as I was the newest employee. I will never forget when I heard something that will stick with me forever. Chef Troy was talking to the two owners who were inquiring about the possibility of cutting some staff. Chef told them “If you want to get rid of anybody, you get rid of me first.” They stuck by him, and for two or three weeks, we continued to do 10 or so covers, but no one complained. Then that passed and things slowly returned to normal. It taught me to be loyal to my staff. He treated us respectfully, and we wanted to do our best for him!
Chef Troy wanted the restaurant to be more on the modern side of cooking. So half the menu was French classics, and the other half was modern. It was a difficult start, but slowly the more modern menu outsold the classics every night. I learned so much from Troy about fish and flavors, as well as seasoning/spices and cooking fish. We had been getting positive and great reviews from many sources, so Troy reminded us that any day we might be reviewed by the New York Times. Without saying anything, every day I would portion four pieces of each fish perfectly, and if the reviewer never came in I would just use them up. I did this for over two weeks because I wanted to be ready for the New York Times. One night in the thick of the service the Chef looked over at me, and nonchalantly said the New York Times was here. So I ran off my station, and returned quickly with my perfectly portioned fish and said, “Chef, which one would you like to use!” He looked at me, picked his fish, and we went on with business as usual. It went perfectly! The Chef had no idea that I had been doing that for some time. It just shows the amount of passion and respect I have for the food. Although we didn’t get the four stars that year, we did earn three Michelin stars!
Why Muttontown Country Club?
After La Caravelle in 2002, I made a career decision to go into hotel side of cooking. I started at The Mark Hotel as a Sous Chef/Chef de Cuisine. They put me in numerous seminars that taught other sides of management in the kitchen - people, staff, schedules, personal interaction styles - it was great. I was there for two years, and was into a major lifestyle change, as it was during that time that I married my wife, Nicole. I wanted to start a family, so I needed to make some choices. I was commuting to the city from Long Island daily and decided to take a job as Sous Chef at the Muttontown Country Club, which was much closer to home in 2005. I met Troy Albert at Muttontown Country Club where he was General Manager. My life changed significantly for the better, and I’ve been in the club scene ever since. During this time, I had my first son Anthony and my daughter Sofia. After my first year at Muttontown, I was promoted to Executive Chef and never looked back. I was there for five more years, and I reunited with Troy at the Sebonack Golf Club in 2009.
Sebonack is well recognized as one of the finest golf clubs in the world. Was the transition difficult?
Since I had worked closely with Troy in the past, the transition went extremely well. The club was in its early stages with the normal growing pains, and it was great to be part of an emerging club story on Long Island. I interviewed with the owner Mr. Pascucci, Mark Hissey, and Troy. They wanted to make sure the personal chemistry was solid, and that I knew how to cook. I accepted the position in March 2009. Shortly after joining, Mr. Pascucci wanted to taste the entire menu. That’s when I realized I would be part of something different here. I had to make four different versions of chicken salad and tuna salad using different ingredients, and we had it all laid out at the bar for him to taste. Of course, he had questions about each dish and that’s how we got started. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but it’s certainly a high-end and quality driven culinary program. Sebonack has grown significantly from a food perspective since 2010, and we have a passionate and dedicated team always looking to expand our menu.
It seems like you’re at home at Sebonack. Has the experience lived up to your expectations?
It’s been a great experience working for the Pascucci family. Mr. Pascucci is tough, fair and has a passion for food. The ability to use such beautiful farm fresh ingredients is so important to me. The membership here is very exclusive. We have members who only dine here in the summer, despite having other alternatives in the Hamptons. Recently, a member pulled me over and said, “I can eat anywhere I want, but I choose to eat here because you make this food wonderfully, the service is great, and the view is spectacular.” Comments like that are what every chef wants to hear, and makes me happy that our team earns the respect of our members every day.