As prominent city chefs make the pilgrimage from urban cultural centers to suburban and rural markets we caught up with arguably NJ’s top toque, Anthony Bucco.
Being in the shadows of the countries most celebrated food city New York, Chef Bucco has led the states most notable restaurants including the iconic Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station and the Wine Spectator darling Restaurant Latour in Hamburg and now takes up residence at one of NJ’s hottest restaurants, Felina in Ridgewood.
We wanted to get some insights into Bucco’s connection to the state he has called home his entire life and the state he has championed as being an incubator of fresh talent and innovation.
Q-Why is NJ special to you?
NJ is the Garden State! When I started my career, in NYC, the industry had just started to experience a boom. The days when the best kitchens in the country were run by International talents in our larger cities were starting to cede to the first generation of top US talents and their focus on local, foraged, and indigenous plants and seafood. Being on the ground level and working in the kitchens of some of the pioneers of the American Celebrity Chef movement taught me to take pride in where I was from and embrace the diversity and uniqueness of the cultures and ingredients that were available to me as a chef both locally and seasonally. NJ unlike major urban markets is not a place that culture is whitewashed, to the contrary the states diversity has made it possible to preserve the cultural identities of its residents, to me that speaks volumes about the state and created a special environment to embark on a lifelong passion.
Q- How has the scene in NJ evolved since you started?
Starting my career in NYC was great for me, in regard to getting a true tutorial into the lifestyle of hospitality. When I accepted my first position as Executive Chef in NJ, it was not without trepidation… Would the cliental appreciate a different approach to cooking? 20 years later I am still pleasantly surprised that not only do NJ diners hold dining in high regard, but they search out new and varied experiences. Today the state is littered with amazing chefs and eateries and its only getting better. I have watched numerous talents both on my staff and afar accomplish great things and the best is yet to come.
Q- You have been revered by the press and are actually the only chef to receive a 4-star review in the last 15 years, from NJ Monthly, the states authority on dining critique. What has been your greatest accomplishment as a chef?
The industry has rewarded my dedication, and for that I am truly humbled and appreciative. Most recently I was named one of the states 20 most influential people of the past decade. While, like everyone else, I am delighted by superlatives the reality is I would not be where I am today by myself. You see to be successful in any path, it requires lots of help! I am indebted to those in the beginning of my career that took an interest in me, spent the right amount of time on developing my skills and providing me an education. Therefore, I felt it was important for me to pay it forward with my own protégés. Truth is my greatest accomplishments are not my own, those belong to the numerous men and women who continue to learn and succeed from my tutelage.
Q- So what is next for Anthony Bucco?
The last 6-months have been as stressful for our industry as anything that has preceded them. While the focus right now has to be on the day-to-day and creating sustainable practices for the business it is important to have goals and a strategy for continued growth. Ours is an industry that encourages continual education to stay relevant.
I am in the middle of what I hope will be a long career, and while I’m certainly happy with the what’s brought me to this point, I am prepared to continue to work hard to achieve even more.
The idea behind felina was to create a great food, beverage, and service program for the dining public, while also creating a concept that had opportunity for expansion. As we push thru our current challenges, I am excited for future expansion with a second felina under development for late 2021 in Jersey City.
Q- In conclusion, what are your thoughts of your decorated peers from NYC entering the NJ market due to the pandemic and the uncertainty of the economic impact to large cities in the US as a result of the pandemic?
I am a big believer in competition being a positive thing, especially when it comes to exposure for the state. I am also a fan of dining out and welcome any and all who can provide stellar experiences in the NJ market. Realities are what they are, and my only hope is that our industry continues to grow and succeed!