A journeyman chef finds his way back to staten island.
By the time Arthur Saks was 15-years-old, he was already cooking up elegant plates of unforgettable food in one of the world’s most respected restaurants.
“My family moved to St. Thomas when I was 15 and even at that point in my life, I already knew that food was my passion,” Saks said. “I wanted to work in the kitchen…learn as much as I could about food prep, so I applied for a job at the Old Stone Farmhouse, one of the island’s best restaurants. They gave me a test, which I failed miserably, but I asked the owner to give me a shot. I was assigned to sauté that evening and by the end of the night I had a salaried position.”
For Saks, a Staten Island native who had been working as a food runner and bus boy since the age of 11, the job was a major deal.
“I really developed a passion for the preparation of food while working as a food runner,” Saks said, explaining that his first job in the industry was based in a small eatery in South Carolina, one of the many residential spots his family bounced to during his youth.
“By the time I was 13, I was working as a fry cook at a wing and ribs restaurant and had already formed a solid base of cooking knowledge.”
Two years later, Saks had a full-time position at that famed St. Thomas locale.
“I worked at the Old Stone Farmhouse for four years, eventually becoming the restaurant’s chef de cuisine,” Saks recalled. “During my time there, we were given the distinction of being named the number one restaurant and most romantic restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
And this was all before he turned 19. Today, at the ripe age of 22, Saks currently serves as the executive chef at the Marina Café in Great Kills.
“I feel very lucky to have this passion and to know exactly what I want to do in life,” the chef noted. “So many people my age don’t know what direction they want to take, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I was only 15. I feel blessed to know what I know and to have had all of these opportunities.”
A completely self-taught chef, Saks credits all of his food prep knowledge to an array of “amazing chefs” that he had the opportunity to work with over the years. After leaving his post at that award-winning St. Thomas bistro, Saks moved to Georgia, California, and even Alaska to study different aspects of the business.
“I had this desire to broaden my horizons and work with other chefs in very different corners of the restaurant business,” Saks said. “In Atlanta, I was able to work in a phenomenal Greek restaurant: one of the top five in the country. I leaned a lot there and developed a strong passion for the uniqueness and simplicity of Greek food.”
Trained as sushi chef during his time in St. Thomas, Saks completed a gig at a respected sushi restaurant in Lake Tahoe that further honed his skills in that field.
A desire to be closer to family and to finally settle down, however, brought Saks back to Staten Island last year.
“I wanted to come back to the place where I was born and raised,” he said. “And that’s when the opportunity at the Marina arose.”
There, Saks has altered the menu to reflect a truly Mediterranean vibe, adding meals like “Our Surf and Turf,” a meat and seafood duet featuring pan seared medallions of filet mignon served with homemade lobster ravioli, wilted spinach, and dueling sauces.
“I like using offbeat ingredients not usually found on restaurant menus,” Saks said, describing a few of his signature dishes: Homemade gnocchi with creamy smoked mozzarella, provolone, parmigiano reggiano and fontina cheeses; lamb lollipops served with tzatziki sauce and fried feta croutons; and for dessert — fried banana ravioli with toasted pecans and walnuts, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.
The restaurant still offers the classics like chicken and shrimp parm, but together with his co-executive chef Michael Peluso, Saks has really reinvented Marina’s offerings.
“We like to revamp the menu twice a year,” noted Peluso. “We’ve rounded out the menu with a lot of nice appetizers, pasta dishes, steaks and of course, seafood. This year we’ve also added some brick oven flat breads.”
It’s all a part of Saks’ and Peluso’s mission to bring original recipes to the South Shore.
“I truly love what I do,” Saks concluded. “I have a passion for cooking delicious dishes. I just feel lucky that I get to do it every day.”MARINA CAFÉ 154 Mansion Ave. S.I., 10308 718.967.3077 www.marinacafegrand.com CHEF SAKS’ ITALIAN EGGROLLS FILLING 2 pounds sweet sausage meat 1 small diced onion
3 bunches chopped broccoli rabe (blanched and chopped) 1 cup white wine 1 tbsp buter ½ cup olive oil 2 pounds risotto 2 cups reggiano parmigiano, grated 2 quarts chicken stock 1 cup diced sundried tomatoes Salt and white pepper to taste
In large, deep skillet sauté and chop sausage with a little olive oil until browned and fully cooked. Remove from pan and strain. Set aside. In same pan, sauté onion in a little olive oil, then add butter and risotto. Cook risotto in oil for a few minutes and then add white wine. Slowly add chicken stock, a little at a time. Add salt and pepper. Slightly under-cook risotto until all liquid is gone. Then add sausage meat, broccoli rabe, sundried tomatoes, and mix well into risotto. Turn off heat and add cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lay out on flat pan to cool.EGGROLLS 2 inch eggroll skins 2 eggs (beaten with touch of water) 2 cups panko crumb 2 cups reggiano parmigiano, grated Corn starch Mix panko crumb and cheese together. Make oval balls with eggroll mix (about three ounces each). Egg wash two sides of egg roll skin and place filling from corner to corner. Fold in two sides, roll forward and seal all ends. Roll in corn starch. Ready for frying.