Caci North Fork

In this Southold restaurant, a painstaking application of Italian traditions to North Fork produce.

chef marco pellegrini apples

For more than a year an international culinary powerhouse living on our East End built a consumable paradise—dedicated to all things fresh and homemade—around him on the former site of a North Fork farm stand.

With great creative vision, partnering executive chef Marco Pellegrini of Caci North Fork helmed several high‐end restaurants—most recently that of the expansive Umbrian utopia Castello di Reschio—with a passion that owners of the Southold restaurant call the “driving force” behind its ever‐expanding back of house, which include a growing garden and commercial kitchen built entirely around the 45‐year‐ old Italian transplant’s top‐shelf expectations.

“We had consulted with a couple people who really didn’t understand Marco’s style of cooking, so we ended up having to do it on our own,” interior designer and Caci co‐owner Daniele Cacioppo says of executing two firsts with one project: designing her first commercial kitchen in her very own restaurant. “We used a lot of consultants, because I wasn’t able to take on a project like this without help.” What resulted is a spacious European‐style kitchen with no shortage of items to admire, including an open wood‐fired grill—requiring individualized hood and fire suppression—combi‐oven, glass chiller and gelato machine, though what some might marvel at most is the massive marble‐topped table in the middle.

chef marco pellegrini

“Those are the star pieces,” says Cacioppo. “Even though this isn’t an open kitchen, it was important for us to feel like it is a beautiful space to work in. That’s why we opted for this [marble] surface here. It was an extra investment, but it makes that much of a difference. All the ingredients we’re using are so real and fresh; it’s part of the cooking environment.”

At this point in the interview, Pellegrini approached with a case of Italian porcini mushrooms and waxed poetic about one of his favorite subjects: the importance of fresh ingredients. The restaurant has made supporting local purveyors a top priority —partnering with more than 20 local farms and wineries as of June—but the area’s incoming chef says highest quality will always ace his list.

“I’m bad for the proprietors because I send back so many food,” he says. “If it doesn’t fit my standard [insert hand gestures befitting an Italian chef], go back. Sometimes I have to take out a dish from the menu because it’s not the quality that I want. The focus for me is really homemade food and good, quality ingredients. I always think of food as if I have to prepare it for my child.”

chef marco pellegrini

Chef Marco Pellegrini in the kitchen at Caci North Fork. 

Pellegrini says this “philosophy of food” is one he’s developed over three decades, a standard he can trace back to his first restaurant job as a 15‐year‐old working during summer vacation at Montefalco’s Ristorante il Coccorone. “The owner told me, ‘Marco, remember, the difference [between doing] a great job [and a] bad job is only some seconds. Just care about what you’re doing because when you prepare something and you care, you spend just some seconds more, but what comes out, the risultato, is totally different,” he says, adding his goal this summer is to provide the same level of consistency to his guests at Caci. “To make perfect dinner for 30 people is very nice, but [to] make perfect dinner for 300 people? That is the good thing because I want the people to have the best experience.”

Seating has grown steadily since last fall’s 28‐seat start, spilling from the main dining room in every direction, including up to the home‐like second floor where Pellegrini’s wife, Sabrina, began mentoring Smithtown’s Katie Hayes in baking Caci’s breads and pastas. The 23‐year‐old grew up in Cutchogue and returned to the North Fork when Pellegrini hired her among the restaurant’s starting lineup last year, despite lack of formal experience.

“When I choose employees, I don’t care about how much experience they have,” he says. “It’s passion I’m looking for; I hire by the eyes.”

truffle

Though Hayes still loves the “relaxing process” that is “truly the art of” making pasta, the bright‐eyed new kid in culinary—or “master of the walk‐in” as she’s known by colleagues—has since graduated to the main kitchen as the restaurant’s pasta chef. “I have a photographic memory, so I remember where I put everything,” she says. “We’re all very organized and good at remembering what we do, so [sous chef Jonathan Shearman] and I don’t have a recipe; it’s all about the taste. We remember what we put into a dish. If you put something else into it, it completely changes the taste, so you just have to remember the taste and get it to that every single time.”

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Gianna Volpe is a freelance writer/photographer/videographer with an edge like no other. She lives in Greenport, N.Y.