A native of Brooklyn, celebrity chef Thomas Perone has accomplished an unbelievable amount since graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2004. Within those 12 years since his graduation, Chef Thomas has opened food spots inside Citi Field, MCU Park and the Barclays Center. Outside of the arena world, 2016 brought the launch of Chef Thomas’ latest restaurant, Primal Cut. A fresh steakhouse concept in Manhattan, Primal Cut is a collaboration with the S Hospitality Group.
Chef Thomas spoke to Downtown about all of his locations. A highlight of the Q&A was his “last words,” which offer a lot of insight into the life of both a chef and a restauranteur. Chef Thomas Perone can be followed on Twitter via @ThomasJPerone and on Instagram as @ChefThomasPerone.
How would you describe Primal Cut to someone that hasn’t yet seen photos or been there?
Chef Thomas Perone: I would describe Primal Cut as a classic restaurant with a very modern feel. The attention to detail that went into designing the space shows. Old-school wooden finishes, Italian wall paper, marble finishes, with a modern approach to architecture. And the menu reflects that same idea. Guests will find all the staples they look for in a delicious steakhouse diner, but will be pleasantly-surprised when they find many more unique offerings, resulting in an elevated steakhouse experience.
Do you have a favorite item on the Primal Cut menu?
CTP: My favorite menu item is definitely our Dry Aged Cowboy Ribeye. It is dry aged for 21 days and the marbleization in this particular cut makes for an outstanding flavor. We also do a spiced rub version with toasted garlic chips that seems to be a fan favorite.
A lot of people first learned about you through Pig Guy NYC, which is found in Citi Field. How did the opportunity to have a stand in Citi Field come about?
CTP: Pig Guy NYC was first made popular in the tri-state area because of the Boomer and Carton Show on WFAN. Back in October 2013 I did a pig roast for a Giants game at MetLife [Stadium]. In the days leading up to the pig roast, it was talked about constantly on the show. Pig Guy NYC really became an overnight sensation. Our Bacon on a Stick was first served at MCU Park in Coney Island where the Brooklyn Cyclones play. The success at the minor league level opened the doors to the major league.
Another spot of yours, Thomas’ Greek Kitchen, is tied to sports as it serves at the Barclays Center. Are you a big sports fan?
CTP: I’m a moderate sports fan, but a fanatic when it comes to baseball. Growing up my brother Gary’s love for baseball rubbed off on me. He works for the Mets and I work with the Mets. But shhh, I love the Yankees.
Was there any hesitation about opening up Primal Cut in its current location? Or fear of what connoisseurs of fine steak may think?
CTP: No hesitation at all, my biggest concern is putting the best product on the plate day in and day out. Our affiliation with Sapphire only fuels me more and more to be the best possible chef I can be. Beyond the gentlemen club stigma, Sapphire is very successful at what they do. I’m proud to work with the team and to be a part of the growth of the company. It’s only fitting that the best gentlemen’s club in New York City should have a steakhouse that can cater to its high-end clientele.
Ultimately, Primal Cut, Pig Guy NYC and Thomas’ Greek Kitchen all serve very different cuisines. Is that intentional?
CTP: No, it’s not intentional, I just love to cook. I have learned how to tie all of these concepts together through my recipes as well. I think as a chef having range is very important.
Do you hope to open up even more restaurants? Write cookbooks? Are there goals that you have as a chef?
CTP: I would love to open more restaurants, write cookbooks, and travel the world to different culinary destinations with my family. I have learned that looking too far ahead makes you lose sight of what is right in front of you. I have been presented a great opportunity with Primal Cut. Once we are recognized as an elite steakhouse in New York City, I can then look at what is next.
These days, how much of your time is spent in the kitchen versus in meetings and handling business?
CTP: We are in the process of building a brand, so I am in the kitchen for five to six days a week. Meetings happen right before service, or even during service. Most of my business is handled between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM.
How do you manage to stay so organized? Are you reliant on iCal or Google Calendar? Do you have staff to keep you organized?
CTP: I am very lucky to have an amazing support system with seasoned managers and a very supportive boss. The hardest part of being a chef is becoming business-minded as well, so I — like everybody else in the world — definitely rely on my phone. I have my calendar setup with alerts constantly.
Recent Primal Cut opening aside, what else have you been working on?
CTP: We are planning to open another location in the future that will feature a spin-off concept, so recipe testing, execution, and development are my primary concentrations right now.
When not busy with the food world, how do you like to spend your free time?
CTP: Spending time with my wife Molly and daughter Cali is by far most important when I have free time.
Do you have a favorite restaurant beyond what you’re involved with? Or do you generally eat at home when not working?
CTP: I have two favorite restaurants: Barbuto and Forgione’s. I have closely followed both Jonathan Waxman’s and Marc Forgione’s career, and really identify with Waxman because of our very similar approach.
Finally, Chef Thomas, any last words for the kids?
CTP: When coming out of culinary school, remember that you are not a chef. You will not get paid a lot, nor will you have much of a social life. Your career will only go as far as your attitude takes it. Show up to work early every day, focus on the positives, and grow as a cook. It is easy to get blinded by all that’s out there, take it from somebody who knows firsthand. Lastly, if you are cooking without passion, please reconsider this field. Without passion it is just ingredients on a plate, cook with love and instill that in everybody you come across.