Frank DeCarlo’s culinary career began when his musical one ended after he moved to Los Angeles at 17 and didn’t quite make it as a drummer. He was back on the east coast before his 18th birthday and started a long standing relationship with food that took him over the course of his career. By 19, he had a position at Il Cortile under Donato Deserio, and he worked his way up to executive sous-chef within a year. Deserio who is from Mola di Bari, a small town on the coast in Puglia, introduced DeCarlo... READ MORE
Frank DeCarlo’s culinary career began when his musical one ended after he moved to Los Angeles at 17 and didn’t quite make it as a drummer. He was back on the east coast before his 18th birthday and started a long standing relationship with food that took him over the course of his career. By 19, he had a position at Il Cortile under Donato Deserio, and he worked his way up to executive sous-chef within a year. Deserio who is from Mola di Bari, a small town on the coast in Puglia, introduced DeCarlo to a different style of Italian cuisine, one that was very primitive and so different to the red sauce joints all over the city. DeCarlo stayed at Il Cortile for 5 years before travelling to Mola di Bari and worked in the kitchen of a small but reputable restaurant, Nicola Von Westerhout. There DeCarlo learned a “pure” style of cooking pulling fish right out of the sea and roasting them over an open fire. “Puglia had the biggest influence over me. The fish, the produce, nothing could be simpler or better.”
When DeCarlo returned to the States he attended Peter Kump’s (now ICE). There he had the opportunity to assist Jacques Pepin with demos and later at The Beard House. While at Peter Kump’s DeCarlo also assisted Jacques Truecote, pastry chef at Le Cirque, who offered him a job working the line. After Le Cirque, Frank reunited with friends , Giuseppe Gugliemi and Domenico Avelluto, from Il Cortile. The three opened their first restaurant, Hosteria Mazzei in 1990 on NYC’s Upper Eastside. Using the style of cooking DeCarlo learned in Puglia, he began serving dishes completely foreign to New Yorkers such as Seppia (cuttlefish), Ricci (sea urchin), Razor Clams & Burrata.
DeCarlo left Hosteria Mazzei in 1995 to work for Pino Luongo at Mad 61. After a year of The Corporate Restaurant life DeCarlo was bored and looking for a new challenge. Circa, a restaurant in the East Village was looking for a new chef and DeCarlo quickly found his home in Lower Manhattan. “Circa was important for me because it made me realize you could have so much more flexibility downtown,” It was also the first time DeCarlo wasn’t cooking exclusively Italian food. “Cooking French, Spanish and even American favorites made me realize what I did and didn’t like about Italian food. The scope of Italy broadened for me and I was no longer only looking to the South for inspiration.” When Circa closed in 1999 DeCarlo was ready to open his own restaurant, Peasant.
Peasant features an open kitchen where almost all of the cooking is fueled with either wood or coal. “My pasta cooker is really the only thing with gas,” says DeCarlo. “Even the three sauté burners are infused with a gas ring on top, so they burn both charcoal and gas. DeCarlo strives for an almost naked simplicity. “My dishes are two- and three-part dishes for the most part, and most of them are served in terra cotta,” he reports. “They’re non-contrived. There’s no food styling, no garnishes going on. I don’t have infused oils and emulsions and pretty colors in squeeze bottles for decorating dishes. For instance, now I’m doing 7- and 8-pound suckling pigs on rotisseries, and they’re served over a roasted potato baked in the coals. That’s a two-part plate. It’s pure and beautiful.”
Since opening 17 years ago the restaurant has developed a reputation as a chefs’ hangout and DeCarlo thinks he knows why. “I’ve had Bocuse, Boulud, Ducasse and Palladin in my kitchen,” he says. “They all started out in kitchens in the basement working with coal and wood, and they come and hang out in my kitchen and talk and reminisce. And like everybody, they love the simplicity.” Jean Louis Palladin became a great friend and mentor of DeCarlo’s. “I think of him as my guardian angel. As soon as Jean Louis came around great things started to happen.” Another reason chefs love DeCarlo is his dedication. Frank actually cooks on the line every night, something becoming very rare for chefs these days.
In 2004, DeCarlo and his wife, Dulcinea opened Peasant Wine Bar. “Neighborhood people were looking for a more casual experience, so we converted the cellar” giving Peasant customers a subterranean, rustic room reserved for walk-ins and special private events with old French laundry tables, a stone cut bar and vintage barn wood adding to the charm.
In November 2007 DeCarlo & Benson opened a Venetian wine bar, Bacaro, on the lower eastside. Bacaro serves exclusively dishes from the Veneto region of Italy and wines strictly from Northern Italy. “We wanted to transport our customers to another time and place—when you walk in, you feel like you are in Venice, not New York City, “ says DeCarlo, “Only the bartender’s accent gives it away”. The inspiration for the bar is a cantina in Venice where the married owners spent their fifth anniversary. After nights of long conversations over wine at the cantina, they knew they wanted to re-create something special and unique like it in New York.
He has collaborated with the world-renowned photographer Hans Gissinger on the book 600°C, a book about the art of fire.
In 2017, DeCarlo and Benson opened Barba Bianca, a dockside Italian seafood restaurant in the historic harbor of Greenport, Long Island. Barba Bianca (which translates to “White Beard”), is Chef DeCarlo’s ode to the fishermen, inhabiting a former coal shack that was part of the historic S.T. Preston & Son Ship’s Chandlery.READ LESS