Tony Mazzella feeds local appetites with Exquisite Eats
Baseball was a field of dreams and the only life Tony Mazzella saw for himself. The 25-year-old Wantagh native grew up playing football, basketball and baseball, and even attended college for the latter.
“I thought my whole life would be baseball. I never had a clue that food would play a huge part,” said Mazzella, who started cooking for his friends at Queens College, earning his chops in the kitchen. “On Friday nights they would say, ‘alright Tony, what are you cooking for us tonight?’ and I really got into it.”
Upon graduation, Mazzella decided to enroll in culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Up against fellow aspiring chefs with five years of experience training on him, Mazzella’s determination as “the new guy” was enough to fuel his passion for food.
“I grew to love it to the point where I couldn’t see my life without it,” he said, earning his associates degree after two years and coming out a classically French trained chef. “The basic techniques are French, but you evolve as a chef into different cuisines. The way I see my food is traditional, but I put my own spin on the traditional.”
The new chef worked at the CIA before gaining experience in restaurants and a serving as head catering chef at a butcher shop before landing a job at Eataly.
“Eataly is the most authentic expression of Italian food I know. I learned a lot while I was there,” said Mazzella, who left his post at the Manhattan-based Italian marketplace this past April and has since been working to create his own culinary business, Exquisite Eats. “I’m looking for an actual place to really get started, but for now cooking out of my kitchen and a rental kitchen will do.”
When he prepares private dinners and catering events, Mazzella asks his customers what they would like on the menu. He has built a client base around his hometown of Wantagh, but he will cater anywhere. Mazzella tries to be as local as possible when sourcing his ingredients, going into his own backyard garden for vegetables and herbs, as well as getting produce from local farms.
“I get organic when I can and I focus mainly on vegetables because there’s a lot of flavor you can derive from them,” said the chef, who makes everything from fresh ravioli to mayonnaise from scratch.
Mazzella’s all-natural ingredient menu is perfect for a private dinner, meal prep, backyard barbecue or catering event. The food enthusiast is also a charcuterie expert and knows his meats and cheeses better than most. He started as a butcher, stuffing sausage and making his own salami out of a wine refrigerator in his house. He also loves to make fresh mozzarella, all lovingly based on his Italian upbringing.
“My family is very supportive. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing right now,” said Mazzella of his mother and father who help with the business side of things. “We rarely went out to dinner when I was a kid, so home cooked meals were always instilled in me.”
Mazzella loves the Netflix series Mind of a Chef and does admire various food personalities and chefs, but more so, his inspiration comes from growing up in an Italian household where everything was made fresh with love.
“I draw from Southern Italian when I cook Italian and I keep the integrity with a little more oomph. If I’m ever drawing a blank, I go straight to the books and experiment with new dishes,” he said. “My customers trust me and I want them to be excited about what they’re getting.”
Mazzella’s meal prep plans work for every budget and nutritional or dietary needs. He tends to stray away from Italian cuisine because of its heavy sauces and cheese, and favors lighter fare like Asian, Mexican, Caribbean and Indian.
“I learned a few techniques at school and picked up more as I kept training,” he said, adding that the aforementioned cuisines are generally healthier and sometimes spicier. “I was fortunate enough to live in Queens, fortunate to be around diversity…it’s the best thing in the world especially as a chef. Being around other cultures, that’s also where my inspiration comes from because you never stop learning—that’s what I love about this job.”
The chef also has a brunch menu, complete with a variety of turnovers, Danishes, muffins and his go-to French toast. From baking the brioche and dipping it in homemade batter, Mazzella said it’s one dish that is “a labor of love.”
“It’s a little bit of an art, so I like to do that, but one of my favorite things to cook for a special occasion is seafood salad. I think back to Christmas Eve because it brings back a lot of memories from my childhood,” said Mazzella, who wouldn’t go near the dish as a child. “One year I just did it and I fell in love with it.”
Only scratching the cutting board surface of his independent culinary career, Mazzella gains business by word of mouth. Exquisite Eats also thrives on customer recommendation and attention through social media.
“At the end of the day I try and teach myself,” he said. “I’m a one-man show and it’s anything but easy, but it is so worth it just to see people enjoy my food.”
To book Chef Tony Mazzella for an event, visit www.exquisiteeatscatering.weebly.com or call 516-528-4980.