Carey Savona took the reins as executive chef at Heirloom, the restaurant at The Study at Yale, in early January and, in less than two months time, has redesigned the restaurant’s menu. For Carey, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., and spent a year at Southern Connecticut State University, landing the job at Heirloom was a homecoming— and one worth leaving behind his position as executive chef and culinary director at the Myriad Restaurant Group, which runs New York City restaurants Nobu and Tribeca Grill. Carey said New Haven has been a welcome change of pace and that he hopes to make the Heirloom one of the Elm City’s landmark restaurants.
Q. When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in food?
A. I started as a pot washer who used to work for an Austrian baker who used to dirty up some pots and pans pretty rough at Springdale Bakery [in Stamford]. My family has been in the fish business for 85 years … I always wanted to be a director or a cinematographer, and working in restaurants was a way to support myself. School wasn’t working out; I needed to get out of this box and travel a bit, and restaurants afforded that opportunity. Being a chef, you’re kind of a director of a restaurant, an operation, a hospitality vision.
Q. Do you think your interest in film has influenced the way you present food?
A. Absolutely. Restaurants are the modern theater — the cathedrals where people go today … We’re in the memory business. If you have a graduation, a birthday, nine times out of 10, you’ll do it at a restaurant. In terms of building those experiences, it’s more than just putting out food — it’s really about creating an atmosphere of this great vision … If you can’t think of the greater picture, you’re going to get bored pretty quickly.
Q. What was working as a chef at Nobu in New York City like?
A. Everything starts, happens, begins, is capitalized in New York. It’s the benchmark by which everyone’s measured … I worked with the people who owned Nobu, which does about $17 million a year in business, which wasn’t for the faint of heart. It was a fun time.
Q. As a chef, what do you have to do differently at Heirloom than at Nobu?
A. The biggest difference is the amount of time people spend at tables. In New York it’s a much faster pace … You’re trying to turn tables to quicker; it’s a very competitive world. Being in an environment like Heirloom, people take their time. You’ll see here how spread apart tables are. In New York they’d be jammed together. [At Heirloom] we want to utilize what we have at hand.
Q. What do you have to adapt for working in a hotel as opposed to a separate restaurant?
A. It’s more on the staff approach. You’re with [customers] for 48 hours as opposed to two and a half hours. You’re really spending a lot of time with them, so you have to adapt to being a bit more neighborly, like family.
Q. What cookbooks would you recommend to the aspiring college chef?
A. A cookbook that really influenced me was Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.”It must be 30 or 40 years old, and I still reference that book today. Jeff Smith, who was the “Frugal Gourmet”, did a show that I grew up on. His series had a great series of traditional, regional, ethnic cookbooks that was just fantastic. The real key is to get your hands dirty. Cooking is more about the feeling that you get when you see people consuming something you prepare.
Q. What food have you enjoyed in New Haven so far?
A. I’ve been over to Ivy Noodle … I had the radish cakes … It’s cheap, and its good. You go in there and you don’t want to touch anything, but that’s a great experience … Modern Pizza was awesome.
Q. How did you create the cocktail that was runner up in The New York Times’ 2006 summer cocktail contest?
A. I named this drink the Gingino. I’m very fond of Italian bitters, amaros, like Campari or Pimms Cup. I saw they were having this thing, and I told my wife, “I’m going to just submit the drink that I drink all the time”… Apparently thousands of people submitted entries for this thing, and I got runner up. Of all the things I’ve done, I have more calls because of this. It was great; it’s a great drink that you can have fun with. It’s the perfect drink to have by the pool.