How does it feel to be hired as the new Chef de Cuisine for one of Fairfield County’s most successful restaurants? Chef Anthony Kostelis, of The Whelk in Westport, would say it is like a dream come true. In fact, ever since Kostelis started working with Bill Taibe in 2010, he knew he didn't want to be anywhere else.
Kostelis’ love of food began at the ripe age of 15 when he started work in a Manchester pizza restaurant. Half Greek, half Italian, and the son of a food purveyor for high end ingredients, Anthony seemed fated to head down a culinary path. By age 20, he was working in New Haven as a server and bartender at Ibiza, when he decided to leave college and pursue his real passion, cooking. Working his way through the CIA, he was mentored by Executive Chef Jeff Caputo of Scoozzi, also in New Haven, who took him under his wing and “set me up for success,” says Anthony.
After graduating from the CIA, Anthony got wind of an opening at Le Farm and began a month long interview process to secure a job as a line cook. “I spoke with Bill, I loved the way he cooked…vendors and farmers would just show up with ingredients, and he would figure out what to do with them.” “It was refreshing to NOT have a plan and serve an ingredient driven menu.”
At Le Farm “we were just four young guys in the kitchen with the same objective, to make killer food. Bill was always aggressive with the food….we were always pushing it. We would work all day. Then after service sit outside with some beers talking about what we wanted to do tomorrow. We were all passionate about the work we were doing."
Not long after Bill left to open The Whelk, Geoff Lazlo came in to Le Farm as Chef de Cuisine. He quickly promoted Anthony to Sous Chef, and when Lazlo moved over to the The Whelk, Anthony came with him. Fast forward 2 years...Anthony is now the guy in charge. Although Kostelis was very quick to add, “ Bill is my closer. I give him a dish…he makes a tweak…he has a really great way of knowing how to make a dish complete.” Anthony is also assisted in the kitchen by a new Sous chef from Boston, Craig Hutchenson, who completes the team.
Anthony has added some very exciting dishes to The Whelk’s menu, including those seen in this article, but there is more in store for guests of The Whelk.
When asked what’s next, Anthony says, “I want everything on The Whelk’s menu to have a seafood balance. I would like to see The Whelk get back to more simple seafood such as a bowl of fried shrimp, tail-on, with our pepper sauce, or a Whole Fish program...as well as some larger plating so guests can use those communal tables and do more family style dining. I want to make this place fun.”
In terms of fun, just last week, The Whelk launched their “Oyster Happy Hour” program with $1 oysters and $3 cans of beer as well as some of those back to basics seafood shack-like menu items mentioned above. Stay tuned for some exciting events this winter, possibly a crab boil and certainly regular menu additions as the seasons change.
On the customer experience, Anthony says “Our job is to make the customer happy…if people have particular needs, we will make it happen. It’s our job to to be humble and work with the guests' needs.”
We spent some time sampling Chef Anthony’s cuisine over the past few months and are excited to welcome him to the helm of The Whelk. His dishes are inventive, well balanced, and delightfully surprising such as his recent “Fried Green Tomatoes” with spicy pickled nuts. Others, such as his Skate cooked on the bone with brown butter simply illicit those little sounds of appreciation made possible by a dish executed.
We look forward to following Kostelis career, but for now Anthony says “This is exactly what I wanted for my career.”
Bill Taibe could not be more proud of Anthony’s rise. “He did it the right way. He put in his time. Anthony was always a good cook -Now I get to watch him grow as a Chef"