Top to Bottom is quick-fire interview series where we show off our cutest friends in the world of food.
For this week’s installment of Top to Bottom, we find ourselves sharing a delicious slice of homemade pound cake in New York City’s West Village. The charming third floor apartment off of Bleeker Street is home to 24-year-old heartbreaker Phillip Basone, the Executive Chef of Jonathan Waxman’s famed restaurant Barbuto. We sat down with Phillip to learn about his passion for food and how Emeril changed his life.
Lets start at the beginning, growing up in Connecticut with your family. Did your mother or father cook?
My parents never cooked. My father doesn’t touch a pot and my mom only cooked derivatives of ground beef, which is so funny because my grandmother was incredible in the kitchen. I am very lucky with the parents I was given, but how many times can you eat Bertucci’s and Chinese food in one week?
Very True. When did you start cooking?
I didn’t have very many friends growing up, I was a loner who hated school. I would come home everyday and I would watch the Food Network. I would always watch Emeril Live. This was when I began to cook. After every episode I would go and remake whatever Emeril had just made, once I started cooking more and more I began to realize that I was actually quite good.
Eventually my parents picked up on my interests and gave me their support to peruse a career in the kitchen. I transferred out of my AP classes and began to work closely with the foods teacher; she really helped build my confidence through her support and mentorship. I wasn’t out in high school and didn’t really care for my classmates, so having someone around that was willing to dedicate their time to my passion was really amazing.
Did you attend culinary school?
After high school I immediately moved to the city to attend the French Culinary Institute, I knew I had to be in New York if I was going to continue on this path. I started interning at Barbuto while I was a student.
How did you get connected with Barbuto?
Well the chef and owner Jonathan Waxman is a hero of mine, I had his cookbook when I was growing up. When I realized he had a restaurant in New York I looked it up, at that time restaurants would post the chefs email on their websites. I took the chance and sent a very long email to then Executive Chef Roel Alcudia, and I was invited for a tour. That was my first night as part of Barbuto, I was immediately placed on the line and a member of the team. I worked for free as an unpaid intern for 8 months; I was willing to do what ever they wanted if it meant getting in that kitchen.
After eight months, were you offered a position?
I was offered a position for that upcoming summer, but I couldn’t wait. I had a chance meeting with restauranteur Mark Vetri when he dined at Barbuto one evening, my coworkers let me cook the entire meal for him and he loved it. He offered me a job a few days later at Amis in Philadelphia, so I took the job and moved. After a very short time I realized that I had not made the right decision moving, so I packed up and went back to Connecticut to regroup and figure things out. I got really lucky, my first day back home I received a call from Roel at Barbuto who invited me to work under him again. I would eventually follow him to Left Bank where I was helping to revamp the their Dessert program, I came in and showed the staff some new techniques and recipes. I left there after the owner asked me to “make a brownie sundae”, I don’t work at Chili’s.
I would move to another restaurant for a year before branching out into culinary publications. I went and worked at Saveur Magazine as a recipe tester and at Good Housekeeping where I would test kitchen appliances. That was a really interesting experience for me; I worked with 80-year-old women who were shocked when I would come in, in my Rick Owens.
How long did you stay there?
Three years, it was so weird. I am not a morning person; the 9 to 5 thing doesn’t work for me. I then went back to Barbuto where I would become the Sous chef and then eventually become the Executive chef.
Your relationship with Jonathan is still strong after all this time?
Yes. He is amazing. Barbuto is my family. I can truly say that I owe that place my career. He teaches you how to be a thinker, a lesson that I have carried with me since day one.
Where do you see the restaurant industry going in the next few years, what is the next big thing?
I honestly hate fads, I don’t even really eat out. I love a good box of chicken fingers with ranch over a dinner out any day. I am however very interested in the American perception of good food, I think that as a country we really need to evaluate how we define what it means for food to be innovative, healthy, eco friendly, and most importantly delicious.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Where do you want your career to take you?
I want to own my own restaurant in New York City. It is really as simple as that. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.