Armed with knives, bowls, whisks, pans, pots and ladles Astoria native Benedetto Bartolotta will be competing on the 11th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
The show, which kicks off on Oct. 2, is set up much like Project Runway — after all, they are created by the same people. The 17 contestants cook their way through many challenges to the top, vying for $125,000 furnished by Healthy Choice, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the title of “Top Chef.”
This time around the group competes in New Orleans under the discerning gazes of judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson, New Orleans’ own Emeril Lagasse and Padma Lakshmi, who also hosts the show. In the past, chefs Wolfgang Puck and Anthony Bourdain picked the winner.
“There’s lots of anxiety and stress, but it’s one of those experiences you only get to live once or twice,” Bartolotta, 37, said.
The first-generation Italian American grew up going to the butcher shops that lined 30th Avenue. He watched as employees carried in goats and listened to the butcher as he recommended the veal or whatever may have been the freshest cut of the day. These influences seep into his cooking now — a blend of classic and modern Italian cuisine.
Another push toward the kitchen was his parents, who loved to entertain. One of his favorite dishes to make with his mom was pasta con le sarde — a classic Sicilian dish with bucatini pasta, sardines, raisins, pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron.
“I was always surrounded by great food and wine,” he said.
Around the neighborhood he remembers getting pizza by the slice from LaGuardia Pizzeria and shopping at the many Greek delis.
When Bartolotta turned 18 he left the neighborhood to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
Upon graduation he traveled Europe and Asia honing the skills that led him to executive chef positions at acclaimed New York City restaurants such as San Domenico NY, Cipriani and Osteria del Circo.
He’s now the founder of Indulge by Bene, a premier catering and event-planning company. He lives in Manhattan.