Tom Valenti

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Tom Valenti
Tom Valenti 01.jpg
Tom Valenti
Born (1959-03-23) March 23, 1959 (age 55)
Ithaca, New York
Culinary career
Cooking style French, Italian
Website
http://www.ouestny.com/

Tom Valenti is the Executive Chef and co-owner of Ouest Restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in New York City. The recipient of many awards for his comfortable cooking style, Valenti is best known for his salmon gravlax and slow-cooked meats, particularly braised lamb shanks. On October 28, 2008, he opened a new restaurant, named The West Branch, just a few blocks south of his flagship location. Additionally, Valenti released his third cookbook, You Don't Have to be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook, in June 2009, dedicated to recipes for diabetic diets. Valenti was the driving force behind the creation of the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, established to benefit the surviving family members of foodservice-related victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.[1]

Professional life[edit]

Introduction to haute cuisine[edit]

After graduating from high school, Valenti took a job working pastry at a local Ithaca French restaurant, l'Auberge du Cochon Rouge. Exposure to the traditional Escoffier style of French cooking led him to relocate to Rye, New York where he accepted a job as a private chef to a wealthy family. He was free to design the menu as he pleased with the stipulation that the same meal not be repeated for at least 200 days.[2] This job lasted for 2 years until the couple employing him divorced.

Valenti next landed a position at the Greenwich, Connecticut restaurant being opened by famous French chef Guy Savoy. Savoy took note of Valenti's culinary abilities and sent him over to his signature restaurant in Paris, France to further his skills over the next 15 months.[2]

Gotham Bar & Grill[edit]

Upon completion of his internship at Savoy's Paris restaurant, Valenti departed France via Charles de Gaulle International Airport where a friend introduced him to Alfred Portale who was returning from his own culinary study period. Shortly after returning to the USA, Portale took control of his now famous restaurant, Gotham Bar & Grill, and hired Valenti as his first sous-chef. It was here that Valenti put to use the precision culinary skills he had developed during his time in France. Valenti would remain at Gotham for 2 years.[3]

Executive Chef[edit]

During his time at Gotham, Valenti became friends with the front-of-house manager, Alison Becker. Soon they would collaborate to open Alison on Dominick, Valenti's breakout opportunity as Executive Chef.[4] In 1989, Esquire magazine called their venture "Best New Restaurant" in New York City. In 1990, Food & Wine magazine named Valenti one of the "Ten Best New Chefs" in the country.[3]

In 1994, after 5 years and much critical acclaim, Valenti and Becker parted ways and he assumed the Executive Chef position at Cascabel where he worked for 2 years before taking off some time from the rigors of kitchen work. In 1998, Valenti assumed the lead position at Ken Aretsky's Upper East Side bistro Butterfield 81. Critical acclaim was almost immediate. New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl declared Valenti a "clairvoyant in the kitchen", describing his "meat-oriented dishes" as "offering exactly what I wanted to eat."[5] New York magazine's Gail Greene waxed poetic about the "mythic lamb shanks."[6] Valenti would run the kitchen for 2 years before departing to work on his own venture.

Ouest Restaurant
Windows of Hope Chefs

Ouest[edit]

In the spring of 2001, Valenti opened his signature restaurant Ouest on the corner of Broadway and 84th street in Manhattan's Upper West Side. The French style menu was reminiscent of his days at Butterfield 81, focused on lesser cuts of meat with bold flavors. A converted dry cleaner store, the "L-shaped" interior layout was remodeled by designer Peter Neimetz, focusing on cozy leather booths and soft lighting with balcony alcoves. The New York Times awarded Ouest 2 stars, saying that the "main courses drift toward the comfort zone."[7] New York magazine, in a 3-star review, declares that "Valenti has honed the menu to the point where almost every dish resonates with love-it-in-an-instant flavors."[8] Ouest is frequently credited with bringing haute cuisine to the Upper West Side.[3]

Windows of Hope[edit]

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Valenti assembled his good friends Waldy Malouf of Beacon, Michael Lomonaco of Windows on the World and attorney-restaurant financier David Emil, establishing the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund dedicated to benefit the surviving family members of victims from the foodservice industry. A "Dine Out" date of October 11, 2001 was established to generate fund contributions. Originally intended as a city-wide restaurant response to a need within their community, news of the event soon spread to other cities and eventually over 5,000 restaurants around the world participated in contributing proceeds from that evening to the fund. Corporate sponsors also contributed to Windows of Hope and, in total, over $23 million were raised to help the families in need.[9]

In 2005, Valenti continued his charitable efforts in helping to lead the Restaurants for Relief effort to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The West Branch
Tom Valenti & Mario Batali
Tom Valenti and cookbook co-author Andrew Friedman at the Opening of The West Branch restaurant
Tom & Sirio Maccioni

Other ventures[edit]

In 2003 Valenti opened 'Cesca at Broadway & 75th Street. The menu, a tribute to the cooking style he learned in his grandmother's kitchen, was decidedly Italian in nature and quickly gained notoriety and acclaim.[10] Valenti ran the kitchen at 'Cesca for 3 years until an egregious decision by his business partner led Valenti to sever their relations, trading his interest in 'Cesca for full control of Ouest.

Valenti holds a small interest in the New York location of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a traditional barbecue restaurant situated under the Riverside Drive bridge on 12th Ave at 131st St.

On October 28, 2008, Valenti opened his new restaurant The West Branch at Broadway and W. 77th St. in New York City. The restaurant was attached to the On The Ave Hotel. This restaurant shuttered in August 2010.

Signature dishes[edit]

Television[edit]

Books[edit]

Valenti has authored several cookbooks, including:

  • Tom Valenti: Welcome to My Kitchen: A New York Chef Shares His Robust Recipes and Secret Techniques William Morrow Cookbooks, ISBN 978-0-06-019819-0
  • Tom Valenti: Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals: 125 Home Recipes from the Chef-Owner of New York City's Ouest and 'CescaScribner, ISBN 978-0-7432-4375-9
  • Tom Valenti: You Don't Have to be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook Workman, ISBN 978-0-7611-5550-8 June 2009

Awards[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Early life in Ithaca[edit]

Valenti was born March 27, 1959 in Ithaca, New York to Louis and Aurora Valenti. His father left at an early age and Valenti was raised by his mother and Italian immigrant maternal grandparents. It was after school in his grandmother Nonni's kitchen that Valenti first learned the craft of cooking traditional Italian dishes.[19]

Fly-fishing in the Catskills[edit]

Valenti is described as a chef who "cooks to live", preferring to spend his time fishing the Beaverkill River in Upstate New York where he owns a small seasonal fishing cabin.[20] He exclusively practices catch and release angling.[21]

Family[edit]

Valenti lives in Northern New Jersey.

External links[edit]

Businesses[edit]

Articles[edit]

Image gallery[edit]

Interviews[edit]

References[edit]