THIS MONMOUTH COUNTY RAISED CULINARY SUPERSTAR WOWS DINERS AT FELINA IN RIDGEWOOD

BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE

With a string of four star reviews attached to his name and an impressive list of respected restaurants on his resume, Chef Anthony Bucco is considered one of New Jersey’s preeminent culinary minds. Known for bold and elaborate tasting menus and a devotion to seasonal fare, the food guru actually takes little credit for the results, instead praising the extraordinary roster of chefs who helped show him the way. When asked further about the roots of his career, he’s also quick to mention his tri-state upbringing.

“When it comes to food, there is this wonderful aspect of originality in New York and New Jersey,” Bucco said. “The culture, the ingredients, are just different here, and I truly believe it gives us our own identity.”

Born and raised in Monmouth County in a staunch Sicilian household, Bucco’s connection to food was bred in the bone, as it were.

“Growing up, meals were paramount,” he explained. “Central to celebratory moments, and were actually the focus of all of the general moments, too [laughs]. So, I think that was truly the impetus for my career. There was never a shortage of truly good home cooked meals, and for me, each and every one of them had this strong connection to life and love. I decided to do this professionally because I wanted to share that passion with the public.”

Bucco began his professional journey by attending New York Restaurant School.

“We all have cultural influences that guide us in the way we cook, but I knew it was necessary to go to school to learn the language and technique of food,” he said.

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Fresh out of school, Bucco was offered the opportunity to work through the portfolio of famed New York City restaurateur, Drew Nieporent, an experience that also shaped the young chef.

“Drew owned Tribeca Grill, Nobu, and Bâtard, so I was exposed to many techniques and concepts,” he recalled. “It was phenomenal, fundamental, and I started at a very good time. It was pre September 11th, and most prominent New York City restaurants were European based…French, Italian, etc. at American focus hadn’t yet developed, and then suddenly this movement towards and appetite for the American celebrity chef started to gather steam.”

Bucco made the move to New Jersey in 2003, taking an executive chef position at Stage Left in New Brunswick, where he was at the helm for more than five years and received four star reviews for his work. He returned to Manhattan for a short time to work with Marc Meyer in SoHo, but headed back to open Uproot Restaurant in Warren. He also took a gig as consulting executive chef at the Hamilton Farm Golf Club before teaming up with Frank and Jeanne Cretella at the Ryland Inn

“I like to think of the Ryland as the feather in Landmark Hospitality’s cap,” Bucco said of the company that operates the destination. “I jumped at the opportunity to work with the Cretellas, and we were successful right out of the gate.”

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Bucco moved on after two years, electing to work for prominent chef Jonathan Waxman, of Barbuto fame. In that role, he traveled the country opening restaurants for Waxman in Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Family obligations brought him back to New Jersey in 2015; he took a job as executive chef and food and beverage director with Crystal Springs Resort. In 2018, he returned to work for the Cretellas after being offered the opportunity to open Felina in Ridgewood.

“I felt this was a great opportunity,” said Bucco. “They offered me full autonomy not just in creative influence, but in all aspects of the restaurant. I was a true partner and welcomed the chance to once again work with Jeanne and Frank.”

The restaurant, which opened last January, has Mediterranean influences, but also embraces a New American theme.

“We focus more on the building blocks,” Bucco said. “If it’s in season and available, we use it,” adding that everything from bread to pastry is made in house, and that he places great emphasis on working with ingredients in their freshest form.

“I love being able to work with raw materials, turning them into something polished that garners an instant response,” he said. “It’s an incredibly rewarding job.”

“There’s always a gang of them playing football in the backyard and they eat by the pound,” Bucco laughed. “It’s not exactly the same type of stuff you’d find at Felina, but the quality of ingredients and technique…that never changes no matter what I make.”

Felina
54 E Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood / 551.276.5454 /
felinarestaurant.com