Serendipity’s Most Innovative Chefs pour creativity and passion into everything they cook. Find out what they love to eat, their motivation, and how they got to where they are.

Chef Susanne Berne

chef susanne berne
Chef Susanne Berne: Bianco Rosso, Trumbull, CT, biancorossorestaurantandbar.com

My favorite dish at work: My current favorite dessert is the butterscotch bourbon budino; I love how the warmth of the bourbon and the darkness of the brown sugar and caramel complement each other.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Chocolate soufflés with Kahlua crème Anglaise. I can make them start-to-finish in under 20 minutes and they come out of the oven towering.

Ingredient I can’t live without: Chocolate! I eat it every day, and each blend is so unique.

How I knew I wanted to be a chef: I got a job working in a large hotel pastry shop when I was 20. It was so chaotic, busy and exciting. Every day was completely different from the one before. A month later I started applying to pastry schools.

Best career advice I’ve received: Don’t stay in one place too long. Once you have mastered everything, move on so you can learn from someone else.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I’d be an architect. I love to build and create.

Chef Ben Freemole

chef ben freemole
Chef Ben Freemole: Tavern at Graybarns, Norwalk, CT, tavernatgraybarns.com

My favorite dish at work: Currently, my favorite dish at the restaurant is the duck breast with spruce and sunflower. It’s a great combination that works really well.

What’s happening behind the scenes: We listen to a lot of music and encourage snacking. We eat all sorts of cheeses, ends of primal cuts, fish collars, etc. One of our servers goes to a great Asian market from time to time and brings back jars of sauces and bags of noodles that we liberally gorge on.

Ingredient I can’t live without: Fish sauce. Almost every cuisine has some variation. It’s a must for depth and flavor.

How I knew I wanted to be a chef:
I kept missing classes in college to fill in for dish shifts, then line shifts. I was putting more emphasis on cooking than I realized at the time. Finally, one of my professors pulled me aside and told me to decide to either cook or attend college. I decided to cook, so I dropped out.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I’d be an architect or work in lawn maintenance. I love math and drawing, and I find the idea of creating a structure very exciting (but intimidating). Maintaining a lawn is a Zen experience; it’s so mundane that you have to find creative and satisfying ways to keep at it.

Chef Julio Genao

chef julio genao
Chef Julio Genao: Prime Stamford, Stamford, CT, restaurantprime.com/stamford

My favorite dish at work: 
The crab and yellowtail roll. Crab is my favorite seafood; paired with avocado and tobiko, what’s not to like?

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Rotisserie duck. People love the way the skin crisps up
and how tender it is from being cooked slowly.

Ingredient I can’t live without: Olive oil. Oil is necessary in almost all food preparation, but I choose to cook with olive oil because it’s healthy and also adds flavor to some dishes.

Favorite restaurant besides mine: Elm in New Canaan, CT. The chef there prepares very creative and delicious food.

How I knew I wanted to be a chef: Once I moved out on my own
and  I had to cook for myself,
I realized I loved it.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I’d be a graphic design artist. Art is my passion and hobby.

Chef Cedric Lamouille

chef cedric lamouille
Chef Cedric Lamouille: Bistro V, Greenwich, CT, versaillesgreenwich.com

Ingredient I can’t live without: Fresh nutmeg. It’s my secret ingredient in several recipes. I love it in mashed potatoes and potatoes au gratin; without it, I feel my recipe failed.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: I am always asked to bring chocolate mousse and potato au gratin.

Best part of the job: I love following food trends and seeing how the best ingredients change with the seasons. Every day is different.

How I knew I wanted to be a chef: I grew up in a “foodie” family in a small city in France, so I was born into it. My mom cooked every single meal, and on Sundays about 20 family members would gather around the lunch table. Our garden was just a few feet away from us, so everything was fresh: tomatoes, radishes, zucchini and squash. Fish came from the nearby lake.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I’d be a professional photographer. I have a great interest in beautiful things. I would say that I have the eye of an artist, since I can see something interesting where others wouldn’t. I love getting the perfect shot.

Chef Jay LeBlanc

chef jay leblanc
Chef Jay LeBlanc: Knot Norm’s Catering Co., Norwalk, CT, knotnorms.com

My favorite dish at work: Our miso ghost pepper wings. They’re the perfect balance of heat and umami, and I feel like it’s a dish you would not expect to find here.

Ingredient I can’t live without: Besides salt, I’d say vinegars and citrus. Acid brings out many different flavors.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Butter-basted steak with charred broccolini and farro. Everyone always has great things to say about it, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to prep or cook.

Favorite restaurant besides mine: The Whelk in Westport, CT. I was lucky enough to do my externship there after graduating from culinary school. Everyone there is super passionate and talented, and it shows in everything they serve.

Best career advice I’ve received: A chef in culinary school told the class that being a chef is like being a technician. It’s important to know how to cook good food, but that’s only a small part of the job. A good chef knows every part of the industry, from dishwashing to marketing and everything in between.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I would most likely still be in the hospitality or beverage industry. I was in craft beer sales prior to opening my catering company and restaurant. I’m not meant for a desk job!

Chef Ben Pope

chef ben pope
Chef Ben Pope: Mr. Koo’s Kitchen, Irvington, NY, mrkooskitchen.com

My favorite dish at work:  Seared duck breast. It’s “East meets West,” as it has subtle Cantonese flavors but is plated in a classical French way with a market purée and housemade pickles. We usually stock 20 different pickles at a time, all housemade.

What’s happening behind the scenes: We play old-school hip hop instrumentals during dinner service at the restaurant, and we tend to sing along to the songs while we work the line. We have an open kitchen, by the way!

Ingredient I can’t live without: Fermented soy beans. A staple in the Chinese pantry, it provides umami flavor and can enhance a dish in a great way.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Spaghetti carbonara. It’s a quick-fire dish to make, and I tend to keep guanciale (cured pork jowls) in my fridge for this purpose. It’s rich, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.

Favorite restaurant besides mine: Revenge BBQ in Irvington, NY. I’m a big fan of Texas-style barbecue, especially moist brisket, and they knock it out the park. I’ve gotten to know the chef and his staff well and love their passion for their craft. They are my best food friends in town.

Best career advice I’ve received: In culinary school, I had an instructor who told me I was ready to be a chef after we had a mishap with a recipe that we fixed right before lunch service for the whole school. He told me to put myself in uncomfortable situations every day. It has been my mantra ever since.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I like to think I’d be a soccer player. I’m a huge fan and still play to this day; it’s my other passion.

Chef Armando Sanchez

chef armando sanchez
Chef Armando Sanchez: Washington Prime, South Norwalk, CT, and Georgetown, CT, washingtonprimect.com

My favorite dish at work: The tuna poke. I add my own little twist on this traditional dish by mixing the raw tuna with my own pico de gallo (it’s a family recipe), adding in some thinly-sliced almonds for extra crunch against the soft and tender sushi-grade tuna, and finishing the dish with a drizzle of truffle oil. I love that a little bit of truffle and almonds can completely transform the flavors of a more well-known dish.

What happens behind the scenes: Diners and people who have worked at other restaurants would be surprised to learn that our kitchen is full of a bunch of happy guys. Everyone works very hard, but we’re always laughing. Most other restaurants I’ve worked in have had a very different vibe: The head chef is yelling at the line cooks and wait staff, or there’s one line cook who never wants to listen and thinks he knows better than anyone else. Here we all get along, so we work as a team and have a fun time doing so.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Pork. You have to let it marinate long enough and then season it just right so that it is the shining star alongside anything you serve it with. Everyone I make pork for loves it and says it’s the best they’ve ever had, so I must be doing something right!

How I knew I wanted to be a chef: I have never gone to school to study the culinary arts, but I’ve worked in kitchens for years. I started out washing dishes, and one day one of the line cooks did not show up. The head chef had seen me cooking some of my own food and knew I could make most of the dishes, so he told me to jump on the line for the night. This opened up my opportunity to start as a line chef and gradually work my way up to head chef.

Best part of working at a restaurant: Always having the opportunity to learn something new. I love learning about new techniques and interesting cooking styles and experimenting with bold and fun combinations. I also love it when new people join us, because they come with their own knowledge of how food should be prepared. We are always learning from each other. 

Chef Antonio Selendic

chef antonio selendic
Chef Antonio Selendic: Dubrovnik, New Rochelle, NY, dubrovnikny.com

My favorite dish at work: Lamb under the bell. The way it’s prepared is very unique and gives it a tender and delicious taste.

Ingredient I can’t live without: Good olive oil. Everything tastes better with this simple, natural ingredient.

What happens behind the scenes: In our kitchen, you’ll hear people telling jokes in several different languages, from Spanish to English to Croatian.

Go-to dish when cooking for friends and family: Barbecue octopus, pork belly or lamb liver. Barbecue brings out flavors everyone can enjoy.   

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef: I’d work in a garden, growing my
own produce.

Chef Brad Stewart

chef brad stewart
Chef Brad Stewart: Flinders Lane, Stamford, CT, flinderslane-nyc.com

My favorite dish at work:  Potato gnocchi with braised Aussie lamb, tomato, pangritata and pecorino cheese. I love making the fresh gnocchi and love the use of Aussie lamb, which is braised and shredded after five hours of cooking.

What happens behind the scenes: Diners would be surprised to learn that I love bachata (Latin American) music, and that it’s always playing in the kitchen. That’s probably unexpected from an Australian chef.

How I knew I wanted to be a chef:
I honestly didn’t want to be a chef until a year or so after I started cooking professionally. I kind of just jumped into it after high school so I could start working, and it was an apprenticeship so I figured I’d at least have some qualification at the end of it. Luckily I started to enjoy it.

What I’d do if I wasn’t a chef:
The dream would be to go golfing every day! But that’s just a dream, of course.

 

The Most Innovative Dish on the Menu

Peaches and cream bread pudding.
The peaches are prepared three different ways for this
dish, and it just tastes like summer.
Chef Susanne Berne

Our grapefruit and avocado salad.
We took a very liberal approach with a citrus salad and
put a Thai-street-food spin on it. The fish sauce caramel
and multiple variations of shallot set it apart from what
you may find elsewhere.
Chef Ben Freemole

The watermelon salad.
It is composed of many different textures and flavors that
make it unique: the creaminess from the sheep’s milk ricotta,
the nuttiness from the macadamia nuts, and the brininess of
the cherry tomatoes.
Chef Julio Genao

Blackened swordfish served with ume, shiso, pineapple,
broccoli rabe, and citrus zest aioli.
It’s unique because it combines flavor profiles from very
different cuisines: the smoky spices of New Orleans and
the freshness of traditional Japanese cooking.
Chef Cedric Lamouille

Our pork belly roll. There are so many different
components: The pork is dry cured for 24 hours and then
cooked low and slow for 12 hours. It features soy ginger
caramel and a quick-pickled cabbage with carrots.
Chef Jay LeBlanc

Soy sauce chicken.
It’s my take on a classic Cantonese rotisserie dish. My
version is texturally closer to fried chicken.
Chef Ben Pope

The steak tartare. Although it’s a very traditional menu item
to have at a steakhouse, we put our own twist on it: We take
pieces of our filet mignon, New York strip, and rib eye steaks
—we use prime meat, from the top 1.9% of cattle in the country
—and chop them up into very small pieces so it almost looks
like it was ground. It’s then mixed with what you would expect
(salt, pepper, parsley and shallots), but served over a truffle
Parmesan vinaigrette with a small quail egg on the side. We
recommend pouring the quail egg over the top and mixing
everything together before smearing it on top of the brioche
that it comes with.
Chef Armando Sanchez

The house-smoked tuna with seaweed and caviar,
because it has a special smoked flavor and includes
flavors of the sea.
Chef Antonio Selendic

The kangaroo salad.
For starters, it’s kangaroo, and it has a bright and flesh
flavor profile: It’s done in a Thai-style salad, with cilantro,
mint, scallions and chili lime dressing.
Chef Brad Stewart

Text by Barbara Brody
Photographs by Lindsay Madden