Carey Savona is the Executive Chef of Heirloom at the Study at Yale in New Haven and the Head of Culinary Development for Study Hotels. Heirlooms's self-described "American-heritage" approach to cooking, leveraging small batch growers and neighborhood artisan suppliers, makes it one of our favorite New Haven haunts.
A tireless force in the Connecticut food scene, Chef Savona is passionate about seasonality and the city of New Haven. He earned his kitchen stripes working alongside some of the most talented chefs and restaurateurs in the country. Savona has lived and cooked in San Francisco, Connecticut, South Florida and in New York City where, with Drew Nieporent and the Myriad Restaurant Group he earned Two Stars from Frank Bruni of the New York Times for his work at Mai House in Tribeca.
If you had unexpected guests arriving at your home for dinner in 1 hour, what would you whip up?
Spaghetti Carbonara. We always have pancetta, guanciale or bacon. Always eggs and good cheese and parmigiano or pecorino is part of that repertoire. Carbonara is great anytime. Better for breakfast or after a night of too much wine. Is there such a thing?
What is the last dish you cooked for yourself?
Last dish at work was spaghetti with olive oil, parsley, chilies and pecorino. Eaten out of a mixing bowl, quickly huddled next to a stove as we began to get hammered with dupes. Last dish I made at home was an egg and cheese sandwich for my wife (Alison Savona) and I that we shared over coffee before we both left for work. Best and saddest part of my day.
What are your guilty pleasures in terms of food?
I am not a big foie gras guy or “everything with bacon” guy and its funny as I do not eat a lot of beef either. I especially like fish and I am a huge fan of oysters and clams - raw, steamed and grilled. My splurge would be fried whole belly clams (that season is fast approaching). My weakness in terms of sweets: peppermint patties. Those are not allowed in the house, well yes of course they are in my house.
What ingredient could you not live without?
A few but you can make anything great with good olive oil, salt, chilies (red pepper flakes) and lemon, and great anchovies, love anchovies. My father’s family is from, Sciacca, Sicily that is where the best anchovies come from. And parsley (flat leaf parsley), a must have.
The chef I’d most like to spend the day with is... Why?
I spend a lot of time with my sous chefs and that time, as much as it is, always seems to get better and more elevated…they teach me a lot as well as my cooks; I am lucky to have a great crew. My good friend chef Michael Paley of Metropole | 21c Cincinnati and Garage Bar in Louisville, we haven’t seen each other in a while and I can’t wait to see him in a couple of weeks. Mike and I speak pretty much everyday. We talk dishes, new ideas and design, we are always tweaking.
What was your worst kitchen nightmare?
There have been a few. Luckily very few considering I have been cooking for over 20 years. The ice cream cake story when I worked in South Florida is one for the ages. We a need a few drinks to discuss that experience.
What is your most useful kitchen tool or appliance?
Internally, the mind and awareness as cooking in a kitchen is a team sport. Its very athletic and you have to be on point—get on base and follow the rhythm.
True tool: A Towel. Everyone will tell you knife or spoon or goofy gizmo. You can’t begin to do anything without a clean organized station. You can’t remove anything from an oven or handle a pan. And you cant clean up appropriately without that towel. It’s one of the simplest, but integral.
What dish on your menu most defines you and your cooking style?
They have been on since I took over Heirloom and we will probably never take them off the menu or I may be beheaded: Our sea scallops with spaghetti squash, sage, capers, citrus & sultanas personifies what we do. A few ingredients, prepared simply and with proper flavor layering hitting on all levels. There are several key things that we do to the components of the dish and it has been replicated many times, but not perfected. It’s just a really good dish.
What defines an outstanding meal for you?
I have had many outstanding meals in many fabulous restaurants, but the moments I remember most are the experiences with great company. I love that time at the table, the togetherness. Eating and drinking together at the table is something we have done for thousands of years and hopefully we will continue to do for thousands more, that’s outstanding to me.
One of the greatest meals I have ever had was eating Ortolan with my former boss and good friend Drew Nieporent at Montrachet in NYC. Our dining companion that day was former NY Times food critic Ruth Reichl. It was an astounding day with unbelievable wines. And the reason I was able to attend was because Bobby Flay and Mario Batali couldn’t make it! I was always in the third spot. Great experience and even better conversation, what a memory.
Who do you like to cook for the most?
My wife, our children, family and good friends. Being together at the table, conversing, laughing and storytelling shares a special place in my heart, it’s where we connect. But every cook feels a particular sense of pride and happiness when they peek through the kitchen door and see guests eating food we prepared, something you made by hand; it’s almost ethereal.
Extracurricular activity you enjoy when not cooking?
Big golf fan, wish I had more time for golf. Running too and especially working in the yard. We had several trees come down in our back woods during Sandy. As unfortunate as that storm was and the destruction that it caused, working with my chainsaw, axe and wedge is quite zen and very therapeutic for me…nothing compares to splitting wood.
People would be surprised to know that you...
Used to weigh over 250 lbs
What is your favorite recipe for this season? Can you share it?
We are doing a glazed/charred broccoli at the moment with a very special, yet simple sauce and it sells like mad. Chef Bill Taibe of Le Farm & The Whelk turned me on to a particular ingredient and we ran with it from there. I love using the underdog ingredients, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, octopus, clams, and carrots. We like to make those puppies really shine. Our beet steak sauce that one of my sous chefs (Brandon Ahearn) worked on and developed is pretty amazing, you’ll have to come in and try it.
What's the best thing about cooking/working in New Haven?
Being at Heirloom & The Study at Yale, our brand, I feel is woven into the fabric of this city. The glow of Yale and the artistry presented demands you up your game and stand firmly in your message; and you must present an optimal one. We feel our arena at The Study is a cultural platform with so many great minds and thinkers coming through our doors—like cooking for and hosting Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen for our CT Chefs Breakfast. I am amazed at the reach of our guests, the clientele and the amazing access we have to them. New Haven is cultured. Sure it has its problems. Every city does. People walk around in this town, ride their bikes in this town and are very proud of the progressiveness, the quirks and intellectualness of this town. We are on to something here, I am hopeful. I am from Connecticut. And Yale, it seems, fosters that kind of creative thinking…it wants you to succeed, challenges you to get better and wants you to work on figuring out a way to better our world. I like that type of challenge. It gets you thinking, keeps you humbled and makes you active for that kind of change.
Heirloom is located at The Study Hotel at Yale, at 1157 Chapel Street in New Haven. Visit TheStudyatYale.com/Heirloom or 203 503 3900 for more information.