Next up in our SJ Hot Chef series is Robert Minniti of Bacio, in Cinnaminson. The restaurant has been making its name for several years as a romantic spot with great Italian cuisine-but we always like to find out what’s going on with the person behind it all. We were intrigued by some of his viewpoints, especially those about Anthony Bourdain…
EiSJ: In a state flooded in Italian restaurants, what distinguishes your cuisine at Bacio from other upscale Italian places?
Chef Robert: We classify our cuisine as “regional ethnic dishes with signature creations.” The biggest difference is the attention to detail we pay to the preparation and cooking technique – that is what I think really differentiates what we serve from most restaurants – intensive amount of craftmanship goes into every dish.
EiSJ: When was the “a-ha!” moment that you decided you had to be a chef?
Chef Robert: I didn’t really have an a ha moment – basically, I studied science for 4 years out of school and had no passion for it. I cooked all my life, but never considered it as a career. I got a job working in an Italian restaurant for the summer and knew right then that it was the career for me.
EiSJ: Is there any one person (or people) that influenced your style of cooking?
Chef Robert: There isn’t really just one person – I have been very fortunate to have worked and studied under several very talented chefs and I took the best qualities that I could from each of them – my father is a chef, so I would have to say the he had the greatest impact.
EiSJ: What chef do you admire the most in the South Jersey area?
Chef Robert: Lou Imbesi from Catelli’s – to have been around as long as he has and still have the level of intensity and passion enough to maintain one of the best restaurants for so long is very impressive to me – Every chef that I know in South Jersey is unique in his or her own way, though – I admire their individuality.
EiSJ: What is your biggest challenge as a South Jersey chef?
Chef Robert: The biggest challenge is running the business. A chef has to know so much more than just cooking to be successful – you have to be good at every aspect of running a business and on top of that, you have to have the creativity and skills of a chef. I can’t imagine any career that could be so challenging on so many different levels.
EiSJ: What do you think of Anthony Bourdain’s lastest comment that there aren’t any great chefs in New Jersey ?
Chef Robert: I don’t know much about Anthony Bourdain – is he the degenerate, unprofessional, sensationalist chef that was having sex in his kitchen (Kitchen Confidential)? A true chef is a professional – I’m not sure he knows much about it judging by what others have told me about his book (can’t say for myself because I didn’t care enough to read it). (EiSJ note: We need to clarify-to avoid having lawyers descending upon us- we read Kitchen Confidential and Bourdain mentions observing a chef that he worked for having sex outside the door of his kitchen. He never claimed that he’d done that himself.)
EiSJ: What ingredient inspires you the most?
Chef Robert: Fresh ingredients – anything local, high quality, peak of the season. Other than that, I’m a big fan of imported cheeses and anything braised.
EiSJ: On your (precious few) days off, what restaurants do you eat at?
Chef Robert: Typically, I will only go to SJ Hot Chef restaurants (Anthony’s, Catelli’s, La Esperanza) but always independent, never chains. Other than that, I usually like to go to a bar, since I never get bar food in my restaurant!
EiSJ: You have less than 24 hours to live. What would be your last meal?
Chef Robert: I would like a full meal prepared by my grandmother – all the favorites we have enjoyed at our family holiday celebrations – meals like that can invoke emotions like nothing else can.