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There is some sort of sisterhood or brotherhood that is abundantly apparent when you meet someone who grew up in the same place you did. I imagine this holds true for any location around the world but it is unmistakable when I connect with another from Long Island. As much as I try, try with all my might to wipe myself clean of any LI accent, there is something that still lingers. Us Long Islanders are simply branded. I recognize it in others instantly, this slight inflection or speech cadence. But throw heritage into the mix, specifically my own Italian-American heritage, and faggetaboutit. It is just too familiar – like meeting a long-lost cousin who experienced the exact same Sunday with the extended family, eating pasta with braciole and red sauce with some ricot on the side. Yes, I meant to say “ricot”, not “ricotta”, in the same way we say “mozzarel” rather than “mozzarella”. You dropped vowels in Long Island when you were “Italian”.

Acme in NYC and I have a history. My best friend Jean-Marc Houmard owns it. I indirectly helped JM find the location, (through a friend who knew the owner of the building,) and secure the lease. I was at the intimate, four-person tasting before they hired their first executive chef. Now as it turns out, their most recent and ridiculously talented executive chef, Brian Loiacono, and I, have had precisely the same upbringing on the south shore of Long Island.

The moment Brian and I met, we had a familiarity. When I asked him one night when dining at Acme where he was from, I already knew the answer, as he knew for me. It is like some sort of secret society of East Enders that we are initiated into from birth. Brian and I had a fast and furious foodie swoon affair and admiration for one another that only intensified when we communicated about our home life and what our family meals were like growing up.

Brian’s food at Acme is sheer perfection – a mix of bistro and Italian-inspired dishes that are packed with nuanced flavor. It is distinctly New York food and the types of meals you can eat four times a week. On one of many simpatico notes, Chef Brian and I had to chuckle when I read his bio:

“Brian Loiacono grew up in Long Island in a large Italian family where boisterous cooking and eating together were integral practices.”

This statement is honestly uncanny – here is an excerpt from the intro to my book:

“I was raised in an Italian-American family in Long Island. In our house, family and meals were synonymous, and never more so than on Sundays, when the entire extended clan gathered. Those meals, filled with love and boisterous energy, still loom large in my heart as my happiest childhood memories.”

Needless to say, when Brian and I decided we would cook together, we knew it had to be the type of meal we would have eaten as a child at home on any given Sunday. Red sauce was a prerequisite and demanded to be served family-style. So, we decided upon a stuffed Italian flank steak braised in a tomato sauce that Brian are up eating. Throughout the day as Brian and I cooked, we nibbled on herbs, mozzarella and breadcrumbs, just like we did growing up. We laughed and he taught me a few tricks, like his favorite way to chop garlic using the back of the knife blade! But most of all, we had a blast and got rather kooky. Somehow the roast turned into our baby that we were cradling to sleep. We most definitely regressed back to our teenage selves, bored and mischievous at the family table.

I am in awe of this crazy-talented Long Islander who still keeps family at the core of his being. Brian’s humble beginnings had him busy in Long Island kitchens, which inspired travel to both England and Italy, cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants. Finally he was back in NYC at age 19, working at Daniel Boulud’s three-Michelin-starred flagship, Daniel, under Daniel himself. Fast-forward to 2015 and 28-year-old Brian became one of the youngest exec chefs in NYC at Acme. Brian’s pedigree and sheer talent in fusing the flavors from his Italian-American background with his French training have earned him recognition in New York City as a culinary leader and I, for one, am excited to see what the next decade will bring!

ACME

Chef Brian Loiacono

  • Q&A

    • How would you describe the food you create at Acme?  What is the core value represented in your food?

      Acme’s cuisine is a compilation of all of my experiences in and out of the kitchen, including my French training with Daniel [Bouloud], travels and work throughout Europe, and memories with my family and friends. The general idea of Acme’s cuisine from the beginning was to take complex Michelin techniques and plating, and take them to a practical level, leaving the diner with a comfortable, “I’m surrounded by friends and loved ones” feeling.

      Can you talk about what Sundays were like in your Italian-American family growing up?

      We started with a big breakfast in the morning followed by a trip somewhere outdoors like the park, fishing or maybe a trip to town. Dinner was always a topic from about 11 a.m. on. “Whatta we gonna eat tonight?” At the end of the day, we always ate together, whether around a table, in the backyard or even in front of the TV. It was always together and I miss those days more than I can explain in words.

      How has the food you grew up eating informed your cooking style today?

      The feeling of cooking with your family and eating with your family is probably what has stuck with me the most. It’s a safety you feel, a comfortable place, when you provide a meal for people you love. I don’t necessarily carry a specific dish to relate to, just that feeling.

      Tell me about the dish we made and what it meant to your family.  How hard was it to get the recipe?

      We didn’t eat that stuffed flank that often, and I really never knew it was coming until it was close to dinner time. The dish has so much flavor and it demands and group surrounding it. It was warm and I always felt like my mom made it just for us. “No one else in the world is eating this right now” was the feeling I had when it hit the table. The initial silence of everyone having their first bites, to the discussion of the day we had before. I can close my eyes and see it on the table any time I want.

      Most important flavor-building ingredient or combo?

      How you treat the first steps of any meal always means the world to me. How big are your onions cut? How far do you take the onions and garlic in the pan before adding tomatoes? The treatment of simple ingredients is the more difficult part of cooking as it’s what gives everyone their “personal touch” to a dish. So, my answer is, simple ingredients like onions, garlic, shallots, chilis, olive oil, herbs, etc. How you treat these ingredients will build the base for your whole meal.

      What inspired you to you become a chef and what was the genesis to where you are today?

      Life just drove me in this direction. My road to where I am now is such a different one than most. My drive has always been family and friends. I’ve hit highs and lows and they never treated me differently and they always believed in me. From my grandparents and my parents, to my extended family, to my lovely, whacko sister, Christina, to my best friends, they’re all a part of my road to being a chef.

      Your favorite dish here at Acme? Most popular?

      Kale & Brussels Caesar. It’s so simple, but the balance is so on point so I can’t take it off the menu.

      Five ingredients you couldn’t live without?

      This is a tough one, but you’ll normally find me with Calabrian chili, black pepper, cheese (is that ONE?!), lemon, garlic.

      Late night indulgence after a night in the kitchen?

      It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that I enjoy a cold, crisp can of Budweiser after a long day. While I cool down at night, I’d never turn down a bowl (or pint) of ice cream on the couch.

      A childhood or college days’ snack you’re mildly embarrassed you still love?

      Road trip = Combos = stomach ache = never embarrassed.

      Anything you would never eat?

      I’ll try anything, twice.

      The five local, go-to restaurants or cafes you frequent in NYC?

      Blue Ribbon SushiDi Palo’s (Little Italy), Little Vincent’s Pizza (Huntington, Long Island), JG MelonAbraço (East Village cafe).

      Last life-changing, swoon-worthy food experience?

      Christmas this year at my family’s house. Two 28-day dry-aged rib eyes (14 bones) with ALL of the sides on a huge table with the whole family. SWOOOOON.

      Favorite city for food outside of NYC?

      As my current goal is to explore this country’s many different cuisines, I’ll have to keep you posted on a final answer. I recently was down eating all of New Orleans. That’s going to be hard to beat.

      Your ideal meal is… With…

      Freshly-caught striped bass, BBQ’d potatoes, tomatoes and asparagus with some grilled lemon and black pepper with family and loved ones.

      Food trend you partake in? One you wish would go away?

      I respect any food trend that doesn’t make our industry look desperate for attention. Anyone or any chef being their own person I fully support.

Stuffed Flank Steak

Chef Brian Loiacono

  • Ingredients

      • 2 onions, 1 medium diced, 1 julienned 
      • 5 cloves of chopped garlic, 4 cloves minced  
      • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
      • 1/2 a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, medium diced
      • 2 tablespoons of ricotta cheese
      • 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
      • 1/2 a bunch roughly chopped of parsley 
      • 1/2 a bunch of roughly chopped basil
      • 1 egg
      • 2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs 
      • 1/4 pound of sliced prosciutto (1/4 cup, chopped for filling. The rest to line flank steak)
      • 3 flank steaks, cleaned
      • 1 tablespoon of butter
      • 1 sprig rosemary
      • 1 sprig thyme 
      • 2 cloves garlic 
      • 1 can tomato (crushed or puréed) 
      • Salt to taste
      • Additional items needed: butcher’s string
  • Method

    • 1. Preheat oven to 500F.
      2. Sautee diced onions and 4 cloves of garlic in olive oil until translucent. Remove from heat and cool.
      3. Combine ricotta, parmesean, parsley, basil, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of prosciutto with cooked onion/garlic mixture.
      4. Mix until incorporated, but try not to mash all of the mozzarella cheese away. I try to keep a few nice chunks in the mix.
      5. Lightly pound flank steak. Season with salt and pepper.
      6.Line flank steak with sliced prosciutto.
      7. take 1/3 of mixed ingredients and make a place in the middle of the flank.
      8. Roll flank so both ends just meet. Tie with butcher’s string to keep together. Make sure to seal both ends so the stuffing cannot come out!
      9. Sear flank in a pan over medium-high heat in butter, rosemary, thyme and garlic.
      10. Take one onion (julienned), 1 can tomato (crushed or puréed) and combine in a pan with seared flank. Sauce should cover meat fully.
      11. Place in oven at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 275F for 2.5 to 3 hours or until meat is fully braised and tender.

      *3 flank steaks, serves 8.

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