This just in from The New Haven Register.
When Paul Staley, the celebrated chef and owner of Branford’s Reverie Kitchen, was growing up in Madison, he had a paper route. One Thanksgiving, he folded a menu for rolls and pies into each New Haven Register. Soon, his customers were asking if he could make them the same for Christmas.
“I used the money I earned to pay for cooking classes with Jacques Pepin,” said the genial 53-year-old, who went on to hone his skills at the Culinary Institute of America, then worked as a sous chef in all-world restaurant Nikolai’s Roof in Atlanta, where the five-course prix fixe dinner once had a one-year waitlist.
“The food was elevated,” Staley said with palpable enthusiasm on a recent afternoon at Reverie Kitchen, the Branford Hill bistro with the sublime cuisine and the improbable location alongside a cleaners, one story below a nail salon, and amid a throng of fast-food joints.
“We used everything with the best ingredients. We were constantly pushing the envelope,” said the Madison resident, who was also a pastry chef at Robert Henry’s (now Union League Cafe) in New Haven and once cooked for Pope John Paul II.
That meant crazy hours, but that was OK. “It was about the layers of the flavor, the difference in textures,” he said, amid the strains of a cello concerto and the aroma of freshly baking bread in the muted lighting of the warmly furnished space. “There was always something on top of something on top of something.”
If that sounds like a tedious exercise, for Reverie Kitchen it’s a creative enterprise. “We try to make the simple and ordinary extraordinary,” said Diana Staley, Paul’s older sister and Reverie Kitchen sous chef, using as an example their roast beef sandwich.
“It has sauteed onions and tender leaves of Savoy cabbage and horseradish sauce and thousand island, the best roast beef you can buy, and very thinly sliced high-quality Swiss cheese on a brioche roll that we bake that morning,” she said. “And it’s perfect every time.”
That might sound unlikely, until you consider Diana’s background.
Before joining her brother in the restaurant industry with Madison Chocolates in Madison and Splash American Grill in Guilford, and before he taught her the food business while laid up in the hospital in 2010 for six months, the former pro tennis player worked in advanced systems at Pratt & Whitney, applying coatings on F14 fighter jets and B2 stealth bombers.