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!