Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Joey Abitabilo spent a good deal of time working in professional kitchens while in high school, but then went off to Duke University intent on a career in law or banking. After landing a prestigious internship with Goldman Sachs’ Mergers and Acquisitions division in London, England, however, he realized that his true passion was in cooking.
Abitabilo’s culinary resume since redirecting his career features a number of prestigious appointments, including time spent at the Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C., under James Beard award-winning chef/owners Ben and Karen Barker. There he learned the basics of seasonal, creative cuisine, presented in an upscale and artistic way.
He was also the Executive Chef under Chef Author Cindy Pawlcyn at two of her restaurants, Bix and the Buckeye Roadhouse, and a Chef Instructor at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. In the club world, he was Executive Chef at North Hills Country Club in Manhasset, N.Y., and Woodland Golf Club in Auburndale, Mass., before taking his current position at Shelter Harbor GC.
In addition to his new role as a chef blogger for Club & Resort Business, Abitabilo, who presented on Chef’s Financials at the 2013 Chef to Chef Conference in Denver, will return to present at the 2015 Conference in Savannah, Ga.
- You’d be surprised to learn that I am fond of swimming in the ocean at night.
- If I could trade places with one chef it would be David Chang, because he courageously follows his instincts and they always turn out to be right.
- One of my most memorable meals was at Traci Des Jardin’s new restaurant, Rubicon, in San Francisco on opening night. The place was packed with highly regarded chefs. I was a sauté cook at the time and I was there with my chef, Gordon Drysdale, and his sous chefs. I was starstruck by all the talent in the room. The sommelier was awesome and picked all of our wines. (Gordon tried to trick me into biting the cork when it was my turn to taste, and I very nearly did.)
- My go-to drink is Long Trail Ale or a nice Scotch on the rocks.
- My last meal would be a rare steak with grilled vegetables or maybe duck.
- My worst culinary creation was a chilled cucumber mint soup. We had run out of mint, so I used mint extract instead and ended up with 5 gallons of toothpaste.
- My favorite junk food is New York-style pizza.
- If I weren’t a chef, I’d love to be an NBA point guard. (Too bad I suck!)
- I knew I wanted to be a chef when I started working for Ben and Karen Barker at the Magnolia Grill.
- The most ridiculous member or guest request I’ve ever had was when a member asked to have a burger split, half cooked medium and the other half cooked well.
- I love being a club chef because I know my diners well and have the resources to do cool things.
- When I’m not in the kitchen, I’m trying to stay active playing guitar, writing, or coaching little league.
- My biggest mistake when I first started as a chef was trying to do too much prep myself. My first Executive Chef gig was at a monster place in Tennessee where we did 700+ for a la carte on a Friday night. Guess what? You can’t prep that by yourself. You have to manage.
- If I were stranded on a dessert island, I’d want these five foods with me: Tuna, Steak, Quinoa, Chard, and Potatoes.
- I cook cakes and desserts at home, but I’d never cook them at the club. (Yves, our pastry chef is much better at it.)
- If I could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, it would be Isaac Newton.
- The most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever received was from Cindy Pawlcyn on leadership. She said, ‘No one ever listens to what you say. They only watch what you do.’
- My favorite celebrity chef is Cindy Pawlcyn because she is incredibly tough, and pushed me to my limits.
- Six words to describe your food: Food that you want to eat. (I know I copped out of the question, but I started to feel this way after reading Momofuko. Chang is constantly hunting for food that is really good, everywhere, even at a gas station or a late-night diner. Great ingredients can become transformed into great plates.)
- I think truffles are the most overrated ingredient, while rice is the most undervalued.
- I hate cheese doodles.
- I couldn’t live without olive oil.
- The rules of conduct in my kitchen are as follows: No profanity. No yelling. No grumpy.
- My most embarrassing moment in the kitchen was when I had my back turned on the tilt skillet while I plunged lobsters into the ice bath. The skillet boiled over right onto my butt. I had my hands in ice water and my butt was on fire. I couldn’t even figure out if it was hot or cold. Caleb, our Banquet Chef, was right there and pulled out my waistband and poured down a big scoop of ice water. I was OK.
- I would like to see better–conceived, cleaner a la carte concepts in clubs and fewer buffets with lots of fatty, salty things.