Giuseppe Lentini Has Been Perfecting Traditional Italian Dishes For More Than Four Decades
By Jessica Jones Gorman
Every Sunday, when Giuseppe Lentini puts the weekly specials together for Grissini Restaurant, the Italian eatery in Englewood Cliffs where he serves as executive chef, he pools a list of the season’s most flavorful ingredients and builds recipes around them.
“I focus on the season’s best vegetables and very fresh cuts of fish and meat,” Lentini said. “I also love to hand roll all of the stuffed pasta and experiment with different varieties of soup.”
For the chef, who has been cooking since the age of 13, an inherited passion fueled his culinary creativity.
“Most of my family worked in the restaurant business, so when I came to the United States in 1974, I started working in the kitchen, too,” Lentini said. “I started washing pots and pans when I was 13 or 14, working 14 hour days earning $20 per day. After a few months I started prepping food, and by the time I was 15, I was working as a cook.”
A native of Bari, Italy, Lentini said it took him some time to adjust to American Italian food, which is considerably different than what he was used to.
“This was 1970s Brooklyn and the food was Napolidan,” he said.
Customers wanted Parmesan, cannelloni, lasagna, meatballs and chicken Francese. I didn’t know how to make this kind of food, but I just picked it up.”
Lentini cooked in the same Brooklyn kitchen for several years before taking a job at Parma Restaurant on 79th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. He then worked at Elio’s on 84th Street for 15 years before opening his own restaurant in the late 1980s.
“At Lentini, I focused on simple, seasonal fare from all regions of Italy,” the chef explained.
He owned the successful Second Avenue eatery for 10 years before the Second Avenue Subway construction forced its closure. He then worked at Due, a sophisticated Northern Italian Upper East Side hotspot owned by the Lusardi brothers, before making the move to Grissini in 2016.
“This is a well respected restaurant that has been here for 25 years, so I had no intention of changing their menu,” Lentini said. “But I am a self taught cook, with food that is completely different from everyone else’s. I added several of my own personal favorite dishes simple recipes that have stayed with me for the past 30 to 40 years.”
The chef, who commutes daily to Grissini from Bensonhurst, loves working with thick pieces of rib eye and the flakiest of fish filets, and his handmade potato gnocchi has become a bit of a local legend.
“It took a bit of convincing for me to cross the bridge into New Jersey,” he laughed. “But I love it here. I love the customers…the wide open kitchen space. Even after only a year and a half, Grissini feels like home.”
484 Sylvan Ave, Englewood Cliffs / 201.568.3535