10 Questions w/ The Whelk's Chef Anthony Kostelis

CTbites Team

You eat at their restaurants, you love their food, but what do you know about the chefs who work to bring you culinary pleasure? Here are 10 Questions with The Whelk's Chef Anthony Kostelis. Find out what inspires him, his favorite chef, most memorable meal and more...Get to know your chef.

What made you decide to be a chef? 

I had always been involved in restaurants in some form.  My father had his own food distribution company.  My first jobs were working a few shifts in the kitchens at one of his customer's restaurants.  I moved on to the front of house when I was 18 or so.  That landed me at Scoozzi in New Haven for a few years.  It was there, that I decided to pursue cooking.  I remember looking at my class schedule when I was enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University; I was totally uninspired by my class list.  I just happened to have dinner later that day at my favorite restaurant at the time when I realized that food is what I am passionate about.  

How do you come up with new dishes?

I try not to think about new dishes too far in advance.  I don't always have a plan for when I order a new product.  I think I work and think better when I actually get my hands on whatever we are working on.  Taste, smell, feel, taste again.  Then my mind really starts working.  From there, it's really just trial and error.  I've made dishes that worked out on the first attempt; some have taken 10 attempts, lots have never worked out at all.

What was the best or most memorable meal ever consumed?

A meal that really blew me away early on in my culinary career was at The Copper Beach Inn with Chef Tyler Anderson(now owner of Millwright's) at the helm.  I had recently finished culinary school when my wife took me there for my birthday dinner.  Unfortunately I don't remember the exact details of the meal as it was many years ago, I do remember Tyler's use of different textures in his dishes.  Everything on each plate had a reason for being there.

What dish on your menu most defines you and your cooking style?

My baby right now is the beef tartare.  Its been on the menu a few months but I still love it.  I think it best defines me because there is a lot of care and precision put into it each time i make it.  It starts with sourcing the best beef possible from across the street at Fleisher's.  It has to be lean, but also have a certain toothsomeness.  Next, the precision of the knife work is so important.  Too big or too small and the dish is lost.  While the dish might look very simple on the plate, there are a lot of hidden ingredients.  Be it freshly minced shallot and onion, lemon zest, varieties of fish sauce.  Everyday the amounts differ slightly.  And almost everyday, I say that this is the best tartare I've ever made.  Constantly trying to improve on something that is already good; that is what defines me.  The simplicity but also hidden complexity of the beef tartare defines my cooking style. 

Favorite flavor combination right now?

Meyer lemon and almost anything from the sea, anchovies or oily fish in particular.  The sweet, floral, and sour notes of meyer lemon brighten even the most briny, fatty, umami intense seafood.  I love that you can eat all of the meyer lemon as well.  It allows us to involve the flavor of meyer lemon into a dish in so many different ways.

Last meal you cooked in your home?

I took my first attempt at making pho.  The perfect snow storm meal.  I was pretty happy with my first attempt but there's room for improvement.

Are there any foods you simply can't cook with or eat personally?

Outside of ingredients I have never worked with, I wouldn't say there are any foods I can not cook or choose not cook.  I eat almost anything but there a couple of things I'm not crazy about.  Shad roe is one of them, though it is growing on me year by  year.  I still do not think I would ever sit down in a restaurant and order myself a plate of shad roe.  Beef liver would be another.  I love all other types of livers but beef or calfe's liver is just too much for me.

If you go to a new restaurant, what dish do you order as a baseline to test out the spot?

I guess I try to figure out what dish is their baseline or dish that defines them as a restaurant.  Vietnamese, I'm ordering the standard pho.  Mexican, I'm ordering pork carnitas.  It gets a lot tougher with chef driven, New American restaurants.  I try to guess what dishes the chefs themselves love on their own menu.

Favorite restaurants when not eating at your own? 

I eat at Pho Saigon in Bridgeport more than anywhere else.  It's always on point, inexpensive, and fast.  But when I make it out for date night with my wife, I love going to Estela and Prune in New York.  For Connecticut, I plan on making it out to River Tavern in Chester and Millwright's in Simsbury more often this year. 

If any chef could cook for you, who would it be?

This answer is going to sound extremely bias but I'm going to say my boss, and friend, Bill Taibe. His passion for food is greater than anyone I've ever met. It infects you.  When he is the kitchen, everyone is watching.  There's been countless times in my 5 years or so with him that I've said "damn I wish I thought of it." None of what he does is overly complicated. He really let's the ingredients shine for what they are. That's how I want to eat and how I want to cook.