BORN INTO A COBBLE HILL DINING DYNASTY, AND WITH HIS MOM’S LEGENDARY SUNDAY GRAVY AS INSPIRATION, CHEF MARCO CHIRICO THRIVES BY ADAPTING ITALIAN FARE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE
Some might say that marco Chirico has red gravy flowing through his veins. His father, Joseph, opened the Cobble Hill institution Marco Polo Ristorante in 1983; more than 30 years later, it’s still thriving, with the younger Chirico now holding down the kitchen. He credits his mother as his mentor, recalling, “She made an amazing Sunday sauce and cooked for us every day.” At age 12, Chirico began helping his dad at work as a busboy, later as a waiter, and by then he was hooked. (“The restaurant business grows on you,” he admitted.) Chirico attended Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, earning degrees in both culinary arts and food service management. “I’ve been cooking professionally for about seven years,” said the Brooklyn native. “Five years ago, I opened Enoteca on Court, a wine bar next door to Marco Polo.” (Think Italian tapas with a twist.) “The whole menu is cooked in our wood-burning, brick oven, from the pizzas to the skewered octopus. There’s even Nutella pizza for dessert.” At 26, Chirico is a relative newcomer to the kitchen arena, but he’s managed to earn the respect of the industry with a warm demeanor, professionalism, and a creative bent. The youngest board member of the New York State Restaurant Association, he was also included in Best Chefs America two years running (2013 and 2014). After Marco Polo’s renovation two years ago, Chirico took over its kitchen as well. “We were sensitive to the changes in the neighborhood and the call for a healthier, cleaner, more organically-based menu,” he said.Under Chirico’s guidance, the updated offerings are a winning combination of classic Italianand modern classics of his own creation. “It’s important to shift with the times,” said the chef. “You’ve got to evolve to survive.” This evolution includes an eclectic and delectable selection of small plates during happy hour, which features items like Arancini (mini rice balls over whipped ricotta), Polpettine Di Vitello (petite veal meatballs with tomato sauce), calamari and shrimp served in a martini glass, as well as a raw bar.For dinner, Marco Polo is typically bursting at the seams, with a faithful crew of regulars and newcomers alike. “Our staff is very friendly and involved,” said Chirico. “They ask people about their day…about their kids. We want everyone to feel like they’re eating in their home.” Restaurant kitchens are notoriously volatile and breeding grounds for bad habits and worse tempers, but Marco polo restaurant.
A“Our motto is nothing matters but the kitchen. You leave your problems at the door.”
Chirico chuckled at this notion. “Our motto is nothing else matters but the kitchen,” he explained. “You leave your problems at the door. We have fun here. We enjoy ourselves and joke around. What helps keep me grounded is that I see my friends every day at work.
Most of our staff has been with us for more than 15 years. It’s a happy kitchen.”Chirico’s favorite dish to prepare is Marco Polo’s signature pasta, Fettuccini Al Vino Rosso. “I love it because we make it tableside,” he detailed. “It’s very dramatic, with red wine and a Parmesan wheel at the table. We toss the house-made pasta right there, so I get to interact with customers while I cook for them.”A close second is the Farro e ZucchineEstive. “It’s essentially two types of fresh fettuccini, one made with farro and the other with snake zucchini. We serve it with a fresh pesto made with basil from the garden on our property upstate near Monticello,” the chef added with a surfeit of pride. “We grow a lot of our vegetables there. I also go to the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket around the corner on Sundays and grab the produce I need for the week.”Even with cooking for two restaurants and Marco Polo’s upstairs banquet hall, Chirico manages to relax.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m running a marathon in circles,” he admitted. “But you get used to it. You’ve got to love this business. On my days off, I run errands or play sports.” He added, “I also enjoy going out to eat.”Where does a primo chef dine? “I like to try different cuisines and sample different spices,” Chirico explained. “I might have a wasabi mayo at a Japanese restaurant, then figure out how to incorporate it here. The design of a dish also inspires me; I remember eating a sushi roll with shaved cucumber on top, so I took the idea and made a salmon carpaccio with black quinoa and dusted it with shaved cucumber. Delicious.”
Try this for fall: Chef Chirico’s duck ravioli
Pasta PreParation: mix Double o, semolina, and all-purpose flour together. While mixing, add 14 egg yolks, 8 whole eggs, pinch of salt & pepper, and 1 cup of water. mix for 10 minutes until the pasta has a soft and moist consistency. then roll it out until it has a 2 cm thickness (roll out 2 sheets).When ready to assemble the ravioli, brush egg wash over bottom set of pasta. Drop the stuffing mixture on the dough by teaspoonfuls, about 1 inch apart. cover with top sheet of pasta, pressing out the air from around each portion of stuffing. press firmly around the stuffing to seal. cut into individual ravioli with a knife or pizza cutter. seal the edges.stuffing: take the whole duck, add salt & pepper, and bake it at 350°F for 4 hours. While the duck is cooking, start preparing the other ingredients. chop up a quarter of the onion, porcini mushrooms, and thyme. Also start the sauce (instructions below). When the duck is ready, let it cook down and then start pulling off all the meat. Grab a large sauté pan and add olive oil and onions. After 2 minutes add porcini mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the duck, port wine, and thyme. Let simmer on medium heat for 7 minutes and stir. then add smoked mozzarella, remove from heat, and stir until mozzarella is completely melted. Add the mixture to a rob coupe or a large blender and blend until ingredients take on a fine and smooth texture. Add the ingredients to a piping bag and finish the raviolis.sauce: take the quarter pumpkin and bake it at 350°F for 45 minutes. When done, carve out the meat of the pumpkin. In a pot on low heat, add buttermilk, the rest of the onion, nutmeg, cloves, and thyme. Let simmer for 2 hours and stir occasionally. When done, blend all ingredients together and salt & pepper to taste. pass it through a cheesecloth and your sauce is complete.