Executive Chef Matthew Tropeano brings his passionate approach to bold flavors and quality ingredients to La Silhouette in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Most recently Tropeano’s culinary expertise was awarded 3-stars from New York Times’ critic Sam Sifton while executive chef at famed La Grenouille.
What influenced you to make cooking a career?
When I was 14 I worked in the produce department of a local grocery store. I told my boss, John Nattarelli that I was going to give notice to work as a busboy at my cousin’s restaurant. He said, “Yeah that’s a good idea, you should try to work in the kitchen too, then maybe you can make a career at it.” I don’t know why, but I always remember him saying that. After working a year as a busboy, I knew the action was in the kitchen. I got my chance to start as a prep cook when I was 16 and after a few years of kind of just being in the way and sometimes almost burning the place down, I became really fast, really good and never looked back.
Lead us through the process of developing a new dish for La Silhouette.
We start with an ingredient. Whether it is a protein or vegetable, inspiration is number one. It is important to share ideas and put everything on the table then sort everything out.
When I was younger, I was afraid to admit I didn’t know something. The key to developing a great menu is admitting you don’t know something and then learning from it and trying to perfect it. I expect everyone in the kitchen to have input on dishes and flavors. I learn a lot from my Sous Chef and Pastry Chef. The goal is always to put the best concept on the plate.
How do you choose the produce you use to ensure it's always fresh? Are you loyal to particular vendors or do you constantly seek new sources?
We have great vendors that have great products. We use some companies that are versatile enough so that if I need only 3 red peppers, they have no problem sending only 3 red peppers. We have farmers that take great pride in their products and pride themselves on their ingredients. My fish guy Eric, lives in South Jersey, in the summer he hand picks great heirloom tomatoes and fresh picked white corn. He used to be a chef, so he knows what we want. I am loyal to my vendors, but only because they take great care and pride in what they do and send us. It’s a two way street. We are always keeping our eyes out for new products and sources though.
Why is it so important to you to use locally-sourced ingredients?
The less an ingredient is handled the better. We are working on working with some co-ops this summer, and we do work with some farms in Pennsylvania, upstate etc. Financially, it builds a stronger community between all the working parts of farm to restaurant to customer relationship.
You grew up in Massachusetts. What brought you to New York?
From an early age I knew that New York was where the top restaurants were. When I began my career at Primavera I knew that I wanted to see how far I could go. New York has a great vibe and the pace is unforgiving. Before you know it you’ve been here for 10 years, but have never been to the Statue of Liberty.
What's next for you? Do you have any interest in a book or a television show?
I want everyone to know about La Silhouette. I believe we could do more of these restaurants and still keep the integrity of the food, service and atmosphere. That would be a great welcoming challenge. A book is in the works.
What chefs or restaurateurs do you most admire, and why?
I came into this business admiring my family, cousin, uncles, aunts, parents. Then I explored the history and leading chefs. Marco Pierre White was a huge inspiration. His work ethic and attitude is undeniable. I worked with a great chef in Dallas, David McMillan. He showed me how to make proper sauces and what truly amazing ingredients were. I worked 7 years at the restaurant La Grenouille. Charles Masson is a restaurateur like no other. He is a throwback to people like Ferninand Point. He showed me everyday how to balance, discipline, restraint, beauty, and the art of a restaurant.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs?
Go to Europe. Try to work there. Definitely eat there. I became executive chef at the age of 24. I might have been too young. I wished I had always done something in France, Italy, or Spain. Take chances. Risk everything. That’s the only way you get rewarded.
What qualities do you look for in choosing a sous chef and other kitchen staff?
My sous chef here at La Silhouette has all the qualities I look for. Hard working, creative, sacrificing, and basically does anything and everything to get it all done. He is the best. We rely on each other and never skip a beat. We have the same goals. Success at any cost.
What do you think are the important emerging trends in your field?
I try not to follow trends. Trends always have an end to them. I try to stay focused on the evolution of the business. Whether it is ingredients and techniques, things that are good always stick around for the long run.