ROB DELUCA BRINGS GENERATIONS OLD FAMILY RECIPES TO HIS NEWLY LAUNCHED TOTTENVILLE RESTAURANT
BY JESSICA JONES-GORMAN
Even after years of culinary training and more than a decade of experience working in some of the city’s busiest kitchens, Chef Rob DeLuca still starts every Sunday by cooking a simple pot of sauce.
“That simmering pot is more than just a meal, it’s about family relationships,” noted DeLuca, the chef and owner of the newly opened DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant in Tottenville, who can still detail the countless numbers of cooking sessions he has shared with his mother in their small family kitchen. “When that sauce starts bubbling, it takes me back to when I was a little kid cooking with my mother the process of cooking it is how my family bonded, so for me, it brings back a lot of memories.”
Each Sunday, DeLuca still rolls and simmers meatballs with his mother to create his restaurant’s most coveted dish.
“We’ve been open three months and have already sold over 10,000 meatballs,” DeLuca said, refusing to offer any details of his great grandfather’s recipe, only admitting that they’re “made with love.”
“We use beef,” he laughed when prompted for an ingredient list. “And a couple of other things.
”For DeLuca, who has an intense passion for food, it’s the recipe that inspired him to enter into the culinary industry.
“I’ve always loved food, probably because I’m a creative person,” he said. “As a kid, I loved watching the adults in the kitchen, learning my great grandfather’s recipes. When I was 16, I got a job working front of the house in a Brooklyn restaurant. I went from a busboy to runner to waiter, then bartender and finally general manager. I was managing that same restaurant in Brooklyn when I enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.”
DeLuca attended culinary classes during the day and managed the restaurant until midnight…every night.
“I was learning how to cook at the Culinary Institute, but gaining a great understanding of the business each evening,” DeLuca said. “Food costs, management…there’s so much more that goes into a restaurant than just cooking a nice dish. I was working 80 to 100 hours a week, but I loved every minute.
”When the company DeLuca worked for opened a restaurant on Staten Island, he was asked to manage it.
“I worked for the same restaurateur for almost my whole career and he told me I was ready to open my own place,” DeLuca said. “He saw the potential and encouraged me. When I found this location, I took the chance.”
DeLuca hired Chef Salvatore Musso to assist him in the kitchen, and the two created a mix of cooking styles.
He’s old school, I’m new school,” DeLuca laughed describing the relationship between himself and Musso, who is almost 40 years his senior. “He’s from Sicily; he came to America when he was just a teen, and from the moment we met we just hit it off. We have such similar ideas—we both love simple, fresh ingredients—but our dishes are incredibly different.”
For DeLuca, different is the goal.
“I feel that a lot of restaurants in the area have the same menu: Chicken Marsala, Parmesan, Francese,” he noted. “They’ll have veal on the menu, but they won’t do veal chops or won’t venture out and try a different kind of sauce. I like to work outside the comfort zone and try different combinations of food.”
So, while the focus of his restaurant is authentic Italian including coal-fired pizza, linguine with clam sauce, and chicken Parmesan the menu also features a blend of unique dishes like pistachio-encrusted lamb, a pork chop with Cognac sauce and walnuts, and an Angus sirloin with caramelized onions and mushrooms.
And it all starts every Sunday morning with those meatballs.
“I want this restaurant to feel like home to my customers,” DeLuca concluded. “That’s why all of my family recipes are on the menu.”
Deluca’s Italian Restaurant
7324 Amboy Road //718.227.7200// DelucasItalian.com