Nestled in the heart of downtown Stamford, Connecticut, you will find Napa & Co., a restaurant that embodies the energy of Napa Valley. In the kitchen you’ll find a talented individual, Chef Arik Bensimon and his team of 31. Chef Arik is a culinary graduate from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.
He has famed restaurants, Le Cirque and Picholine in NYC and LaPanetiere in Rye, NY under his belt. His many years in the culinary scene of New York shaped his passion and work ethic. Arik believes in the “farm to table” cuisine that Napa and Co was built around by owners Mary Schaffer and Charles Morgan. Fresh food, locally driven and un-manipulated.
Who or what influenced you to get into the culinary scene?
Well I started working in a family owned restaurant in Manhattan called Pasta Prego when I was about eleven years old, I’d work there on summer breaks and any vacations we had, going on deliveries, cooking , opening and closing, making sandwiches and pastas, everything was made from scratch including the bread the restaurant was very busy and I always remember how much I loved that rush of getting bombarded and working under pressure. My love for cooking came much later on.
You’ve had a successful career in the NYC culinary scene, what brought you to Connecticut and Napa & Co.?
I’ve worked in Manhattan for about thirteen years once I graduated from Culinary school, I am originally from New York but most of my family lives here now and mainly I think I was just tired of the subway and the lack of trees. I do miss the energy a lot.
When I came to Napa I definitely felt that I had to put my own stamp on as any chef would.
When you arrived at Napa & Co., was the menu already established or did you give it a whole different feel entirely?
It’s kind of a touchy subject because when you think about it all food does come from a farm. I believe people are becoming more aware and more health conscious and are curious as to where that food comes from and how it was farmed. I try to source as locally as possible I believe that is one of my responsibilities as a chef to know where my food comes from and to make sure I am offering the best possible ingredients.
Do you only use local produce, meats, cheeses, etc., in CT?
As much as possible.
What about wines, do you use only local vineyards?
We have wines from all over the world.
Any favorite ingredients you enjoy cooking with that make your dishes unique?
I have been starting to experiment with a lot more spices from around the world.
Does your menu change depending on what’s available to you?
Yes, our menu changes daily not the whole thing but a few items here and there, dishes evolve, that’s the fun part for me.
What’s your buying strategy? Do you go to bid every week?
I speak with various farmers daily; when my schedule allows me I visit the farms as often as possible.
What’s your approach to building the right team? Such as a sous chef, etc.
An open mind. They need to bring ideas forward; I need to be able to learn from them as well.