Chef Spotlight: Anthony Pucciarello of Cielo

Anthony PucciarelloAnthony Pucciarello lives in West Caldwell, a short drive from Cielo, his restaurant in Fairfield. A CIA graduate, Chef Pucciarello also holds a BS in Hotel/Restaurant Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University. After serving as sous chef for Tropicana Resort in Las Vegas, Chef Pucciarello returned to the east coast, where he worked at several top Manhattan restaurants. He returned to New Jersey, and made a name for himself working as executive chef at Papillion in Nutley and Luce in Caldwell before opening Cielo in 2012. We shined our Chef Spotlight on him for the inside story.

JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory? CHEF PUCCIARELLO: It is so cliché for an Italian to say this, but I come from a large family and my grandma’s house in the basement with homemade sopressata hanging everywhere, her making pasta by hand and my grandfather’s wine barrels scattered all over the place.

When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment? I lived on a dead-end street in Belleville and my house was always the house that my friends came to, especially on Saturdays. When I was nine, I started by making omelets for all my friends, under my mom’s supervision, of course! I was good at it, so it grew from there. At 10 years old, I started making pizza boxes at a local pizza place for $10 a week and I knew from that point on it was in my blood.

Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally? I was 17 years old eating an Italian hot dog at my friend’s place in Belleville and there was a restaurant next door. The owner walked [up to us] and said, “my cook just walked out. Does anyone here know how to cook?” I said, “I do!” And the rest is history.

What is your cooking style?Anthony Pucciarello, Veronique Deblois, Morris County Northern Italian, comfort food with a twist

What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it? On the Amalfi Coast, I asked the concierge where the locals eat. He sent me to this woman’s house. We sat under a lemon tree and she cooked for me. One thing was better than the next. I remember taking a moment afterward and saying, “If God took me right now, I would have no regrets.” It was a perfect moment.

If today were your last day on earth, what would your final meal be? A veal cutlet sandwich on toasted panelle with long hot Italian peppers, homemade mozzarella, and prosciutto di Parma.

What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs? Be passionate, respect the ingredients, work hard and love what you do.

If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be? A Jersey tomato. It is so versatile.

What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home? It’s hard to choose just one: garlic, olive oil, a pound of pasta. I could do wonders with them.

What is your beverage of choice? Hands down, Chopin martini—very dry, three olives, straight up.

What is your favorite comfort food? A big bowl of manestra and beans with neck bones, sausage, pepperoni with crusty bread for sopping up.

What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own? LuNello in Cedar Grove.

If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why? My Dad, who passed away four years ago. He would be so proud of me accomplishing my goal, which was opening my own restaurant. We enjoyed each other’s company with good food and drink. Mickey Mantle, who loved to party. I would have loved to hang with him just one night and go to a Yankee game the next day. And Jesus, because the fish would always be fresh and we would never run out of bread and wine!

Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about? We’ve just launched our new casual Tavern menu, a new cocktail program, and updated our bar menu. We have a gorgeous outdoor patio with a waterfall that will be opening soon for the season. And we have a great dining deal for folks hankering for a taste of the truly traditional: Cielo’s Sunday Gravy Supper. Served 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., diners can savor a glass of house wine, salad, meatballs, housemade sausage and pasta with Grandma’s Gravy for $21.95.

Cielo Restaurant 168 Passaic Avenue Fairfield 973-808-1414 Cheers, Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.