ONCE DESTINED TO BECOME AN ENGINEER, AN AWARD-WINNING CHEF INSTEAD JOINED THE CULINARY WORLD AND BECAME THE ENGINEER OF HIS OWN BURGEONING BRAND
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI • PHOTOS BY VIOLET KARYN PHOTOGRAPHY
When diners savor inventive pizzas, veal ricotta meatballs, or cacio e pepe from Corbo & Sons, they may be unaware they are tasting a lifetime of culinary experience that has taken chef/owner Richard Corbo from Toms River to Italy, New York, California, and back again. Chef Corbo perfected his recipes early on at cooking schools throughout Italy, including the Apicius Culinary Academy of Florence. He has returned repeatedly, traveling the country of his ancestors to take specialized courses from renowned Italian chefs. Back in the U.S., Corbo has worked alongside acclaimed American chefs, widening his culinary horizons along with his repertoire.
Early in his career, the versatile chef opened the American bistro Slowly in his hometown of Toms River with a friend. The New Jersey Zagat Guide rated it one of the best new restaurants in the state. At New York’s Tribeca Grill, Corbo served as executive chef, expanding his horizons in contemporary fare. He was chef de cuisine of Manhattan’s Standard Bar & Grill on the High Line, and served as consultant at New York’s La Pecora Bianca (The White Sheep), which inspired his new Shrewsbury location of Corbo & Sons, which opened in December. Among his most influential tenures was chef de partie under acclaimed chef Michael Romano at Union Square Café. And that’s just on the East Coast.
Seeking a change, he drove cross-country to join his sister in Northern California where he worked with chef Gary Danko, whose eponymous San Francisco restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf is known for combining French, Mediterranean, and American styles. Shortly thereafter, Corbo was recruited to open that city’s Venetian-inspired Ducca at the Westin Hotel. As head chef, he combined rustic Italian fare with contemporary urban cuisine, creating a lighter “California Italian” menu and earning a three-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle. He was named one of the paper’s Five Rising Star Chefs of 2008, and was also nominated by the James Beard Foundation as a semi-finalist for the Rising Star Award. Upon returning to the East Coast circa 2009, Corbo opened an Italian restaurant in Port Chester, New York. From there it was on to a position as chief consultant at the King & Grove Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, followed by chef de cuisine at Loews Hotels in the greater New York City area.
“There are benefits to working on that level,” said Corbo. “At the Standard I had 15 sous chefs and 60 cooks under me, doing 600 to 1,000 dinners per night. I was running a big operation and responsible for all of it. I became more of a manager and supervisor.”
It’s been a heady and sometimes intense journey for the graduate of Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, the son of an engraver and a schoolteacher. Headed for a career in engineering, Corbo began working at Toms River Italian stalwart Il Giardinello during high school, continuing through his college years at Vanderbilt and Rutgers University. At Il Giardinello, he learned the fundamentals of running a restaurant from owner Joe Pisacreta, whom he credits as a mentor.
He left college during his senior year with 12 credits remaining before graduation. His perspective had changed after the loss of a close friend, and “the bustle of restaurant life called me.” Throughout, he pursued his passion for writing, which continues to this day as a hobby.
It was at La Pecora Bianca, where he helped create the original concept and wrote the menu, that the young chef/ consultant decided he wanted to do his own version of the popular eatery’s concept.
Corbo soon became known for his health-influenced techniques and penchant for organic, sustainable, local produce. He now had an able partner, his wife Chantelle. He met his future bride after joining the Loew’s Regency, where Chantelle was brought in from Chicago as head sommelier. The pair married in 2017. That same year, the Corbos formed RBC Hospitality Group. Their first venture was their instantly popular food and wine destination in Bell Works, Holmdel’s former Bell Labs, now an office and retail complex. To promote their brand and take their business to the next level, the couple opened their new sit-down dining establishment in Shrewsbury while Chantelle was pregnant with their first child, a son born in February.
“We were able to create a new, fast casual concept based around high quality pizza created for the New Jersey palate,” Corbo said. “We are equally and proudly American and Italian American. It’s a café model, family-focused, with lots of vegetables. It’s not a scene restaurant or special occasion place. We serve pasta, pizza, rich ragouts heartwarming food that’s nutrient dense and light.” His Shrewsbury guests tell him his food and concept are “sorely needed”.
The business is named for his grandfather, a pizza maker, and his father and uncle, who worked for him. “Those are Corbo & Sons,” he said. “The name is a tribute to them.”
The Shrewsbury location on a high-profile corner was chosen because it’s close to the shore in a family-oriented suburb with “a nice mix of young families and retirees.” The menu features small plates with high quality ingredients, NJ-made cheeses, and organic produce whenever possible.
A key ingredient to the luscious cuisine is the Corbo’s partner and executive chef in Shrewsbury, Sicilian-American chef Sal Capobianco, an accomplished kitchen magician whose past posts have included Gramercy Tavern and Marea in Manhattan (where he worked directly under chef Michael White), and Pascal & Sabine and Brickwall Tavern in Asbury Park. Known for his extensive experience in “elevated NYC Italian,” chef Capobianco is responsible for developing and executing Shrewsbury’s menu.
“Sal’s dad had pizzerias in Ocean County and he was contemplating opening his own restaurant,” said Corbo, adding they were introduced by a mutual friend. “During the pandemic, he was drawn back to his family and reconnected with his roots in pizza. We spoke the same language and had friends in the restaurant industry in common. He was the perfect t, specifically recruited for Shrewsbury for his unique perspective and culinary skills.” Capobianco initially joined the Corbos at their Bell Works location to develop recipes together while Shrewsbury was under construction.
“Sal, Chantelle, and I aspire to grow the Corbo & Sons brand locally using the new Shrewsbury location as a model,” said Corbo. Shrewsbury diners can expect seasonally changing menus in the “California, European mindset: citrus in winter, stone fruits in summer, and tomatoes in the fall,” said the chef. “Our entrees like fish and meat dishes will change, sometimes weekly. Our heart and soul is pizza and pasta, but our guests, some who come multiple times per week, can have the seasonal, fluid concept.” Sunday brunch and lunch service will soon be added in Shrewsbury. Corbo & Sons also does catering for weddings and special events.
“Hospitality is at the core of what we do,” noted Corbo. “We are driven by a passion for sharing the quality in our craft, persistent curiosity to explore our food systems, empathy for lives we touch, and a desire to improve the world in which we work.”
Corbo & Sons Osteria Shrewsbury
555 Shrewsbury Avenue / 732.704.3289 / Corboandsons.shrewsbury
Corbo & Sons Holmdel Bell
Market / 101 Crawfords Corner Road / 732.365.2110 firstname.lastname@example.org