Meet the Chef: The Penrose’s Nick Testa
How did you get started in the culinary world?
It all began when I was 15 years old. I took a job at a local deli in my little hometown of Hawthorne, Westchester. I was stocking shelves, but always wanted to hop on the grill, make eggs, cook with those guys in the back. When I was 16 years old they asked me to start cooking after school, and I would go in and make all of the chicken cutlets, and I’d make things like bacon egg and cheeses on the weekends. It was at that point that I decided that I wanted to be a chef.
After that I tried entering into Manhattan after high school, but it was kind of tough, so I stayed in delis and managed a couple of places. I bought my own deli when I was 20 years old-and that was a big fail, I was only 20 and was still young and dumb. So then I went to go run my friend’s place and cooked over there, where I managed the deli and the catering and helped out in the kitchen. A customer approached me one day and said “Do you want to come cook in my restaurant in Manhattan?” I was like “Yes, absolutely.” I gave my two weeks notice and started to work for this guy, whose restaurant is actually right around the corner from here. I met and worked with this really great chef Ryan Skeen, and he ended up being my mentor. I stayed there for about a year, and he taught me everything I know today. He took me under his wing. He’s worked for Daniel, Bouley; a really top-tier chef. I stayed there until the owner decided to close a year later, but met Rory, the owner of the Penrose, there.
Years passed and I worked some other jobs. I opened up a restaurant, Social House, on the Upper West Side and ran that for about 6 months until the owner decided to shut that down, and then worked downtown at the Jade Hotel. I did a tasting for them, and was just going in for a sous chef position,
but I made a dessert and they ended up making me their sous chef and their pastry chef. So I had these two great jobs and started getting my name out
there, people were coming to the hotel on the regular. And after that I picked up a job with Rocco DiSpirito of the Food Network and helped run his diet program. I’d make recipes and help out on appearances with him, and was basically assistant food stylist. It was a really fun time. I learned a lot from him as well.
So I had been working all of these in-between jobs, and then Rory, the owner here, remembered me from years ago and gave me a call, and offered me the position to be his executive chef at six of his locations-so I’ve been here for about two years now.
How do you manage your time?
I’ll usually pick two restaurants to visit: I’ll do quality control, surprise tastings, sit down for dinner and just make sure that everything is on point. I also take care of all the parties that come in and handle the ordering for that. Constantly just working to make sure that all of the locations are level. I design the menus, train the team-all of that comes from me.
What kind of food do you serve up at The Penrose?
New American, but with some influences from all the places I’ve visited from around the world. It’s a good mix, but we still stay within the confines of American bar food.
See what The Penrose is serving up at The Art of Food by visiting www.artoffoodny.com
Where have you visited that’s really effected your cooking?
Corsica really impacted me. It’s an island of France, and some of the greatest tasting things in the world come from there. Really fresh food. I also spent some time in Mexico, and a little time in New Orleans, which lets me add a little southern flare to the food sometimes.
Favorite thing to cook outside of work?
Breakfast. On the weekends I make waffles, bacon-all of that. I make fresh biscuits at least once a month at home.
Number one cooking tip?
Don’t overcook your proteins. It’s the most important thing to me. No matter what you season with, if it’s overcooked, it’s not going to be good.
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