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Executive Chef Sam DeMarco


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It all began 10 years ago, when Chef DeMarco began his extremely interesting journey on the road to Fireside. "I owned a local restaurant in New York, 'First,' in the East Village," Chef DeMarco told us. "It had a 10-year run and after that I had a place called Sam's in the Bellagio in Las Vegas for Steve Wynn, where I commuted for two years between Las Vegas and New York."

"After that I came back to New York and had the restaurants Merge and District, situated in the East Village and the Theater District. But, after Sept. 11, with the terrorism -- plus the fact that I had one partner and we didn't have deep pockets -- times got tough, like they did for so many other Americans. We lost our lease at First, which was our bread-winner. After 10 to 15 years of being an owner, I found myself doing consulting and development work. I enjoy building and development, but unfortunately it's not always as consistent. I had been consulting to Steven Starr at the Waldorf Astoria, the Millenium Broadway and a lot of different places. Initially, I was going to consult to Fireside and secure a chef de cuisine for the restaurant. Some of the design was already started and I had sent a few candidates for chefs, but Mr. Rosenstock said, 'Why don't you work for us?' I said, 'What the hell?'" And the rest is culinary history.

Lollipop Buffalo Wings

It's Chef DeMarco's turbulent and diverse career, we learned, that makes his Fireside menu so unique. "This food really represents a decade of Sam DeMarco and all the restaurants that I've owned, put into one," he continued. "It's meant to be approachable, sophisticated, fun food. That's what we call it. It's food that is very nostalgic. I don't create menus or food that's challenging to people's palates. The nice thing is you can come here and have very different types of experiences. You can eat really casually, or if you come with a larger group you can almost create your own tasting menu. All of the shareable items are available to you by a minimum order or by the piece, so if you're four or five people you could easily just order a round of oysters, a round of lobster rolls and do a little fun tapas-style eating -- all in an American way. What this menu represents is America being a big melting pot of big ethnic flavors. That's fun for me because it really has no boundaries to it. A lot of these menu items have been old favorites. Nostalgic dishes from my past."

Inspired by our host, we decided to take Chef DeMarco's advice and have fun with our food by creating our very own tapas menu. We began with one of the staples of the Fireside menu: Lollipop Wings.

"When the wings first came about I was at First, which was a late night restaurant," Chef DeMarco said. "We had a lot of late night diners and part of my acclaim came from feeding chefs. First was open until 3 a.m., so a lot of chefs used to come down and eat at our place. Once First's popularity started, everyone said, 'Well, if he's good enough to feed chefs, he must be good enough to feed me.' So that's how it happened at First. One always looks for those yen-type things late at night -- small little things that you really crave late at night, like wings and a beer. The wings just naturally seem like a late night food."

As natural as they seemed, however, Chef DeMarco was nonetheless hesitant about serving a dish like wings. "My whole background prior to First was 3 and 4 star dining, working with such great chefs as Gray Kunz, David Burke and Jean Michel Diot," he told us. "And here I am with my little bistro downtown; I didn't want to be known for wings. At first, I hated it that Charlie Trotter and Jean Georges would come in and eat my wings. And then every big shot is eating my wings. At first I was a little hesitant, but then I realized that some chefs are never known for anything, so I'll take the wings!"

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