Today's celebrity/social media culture spawns many "Facebook chefs" and "TV chefs" who are interested in fame over food, and who tally up social media hits instead of culinary stars. But there still exists another kind who values old-school laws of hospitality more than anything, and who finds the greatest reward in giving customers an unforgettable experience. Philadelphia chef Chris Scarduzio falls into the latter class, and we were incredibly happy to discover him on a recent trip to Atlantic City, where his Boardwalk restaurant is a haven of old-school class and cuisine.
It'll be your pleasure to get to know this up-and-coming East Coast chef who's taking the classic path to the top. While the best way is via your tastebuds, if you're not currently near Philly or Atlantic City, this interview will give you enough insight into Scarduzio to inspire booking a table next time you're in town.
Lena Katz: How did cooking play into your life when you were growing up?
Chris Scarduzio: I grew up in a small row home in West Philly, and at one point 16 people lived there. It was my grandmother who influenced me at a young age, and I also helped her in the kitchen. Although we may have been poor, we were rich with tradition and food.
LK: How did your culture influence your cooking?
CS: Growing up, there was one phrase I came to know very well: “We live to eat; we don’t eat to live.” We had a small garden in the back of my house, and in my family and in my neighborhood we would all share food and wine and everything we had. There was a baker that baked bread in his basement near my house and a huckster that would drive down our street selling his fresh produce. The culture focused on family first, food second — everything else works out!
LK: Of all your projects thus far, what's your favorite?
CS: That’s like asking which of my children I love the most. I currently have three children, three restaurants and three more restaurants opening within the next 14 months, and I love them all equally. However, what I am doing at the moment to transform the old Le Bec Fin into Avance makes me especially proud.
LK: What do you want foodies to know about your Atlantic City Boardwalk restaurant?
CS: What we serve at Scarduzio’s at Showboat in Atlantic City is as good, if not better than, our restaurants in the more metropolitan areas. You don’t have to be a gambler to come dine at the restaurant. I am always saying to people that there are no slot machines in my restaurants.
LK: What is the ultimate meal there?
CS: I love the DeBregga prime dry aged strip steak. The product is superior and consistently delicious.
LK: Why did you decide to add a sushi menu to a classic steakhouse?
CS: Why not? I’ve seen a trend of the growing demand for sushi in casinos and I felt the offering should be available to the guests and players. I’ve always found that steak pairs well with seafood, so why not try it with sushi? I'm happy to say that it is working well at Scarduzio’s at Showboat in Atlantic City.
LK: What do you have coming up?
CS: We are opening Avance in the former Le Bec Fin space, the same space where I started my career. Avance will be soft opening on December 6th as a modern American restaurant with a focus on micro-seasonal ingredients. My partner for this project is two-star Michelin Chef Justin Bogle. I am also working on opening another Mia in the Phoenix building in Philadelphia called Mia Bar and Restaurant. The new Mia will feature even more pizzas on the menu, because we have a new exposed wood stone station for pizzas, in addition to a fantastic bar area.
The final project I have right now is a restaurant on East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia, which Food & Wine named one of “the most up and coming food streets in America.” This venture is exciting for us because we know that we will have both a first floor eatery and rooftop lounge.
LK: What's your favorite thing to eat on your night off?
CS: I love a good Cheesesteak. I mean, come on, I am from Philly!