It was there that he fell in love with cooking and, being in North Carolina, learned the art of cooking pork.
“That’s when I saw my first pig broken down to be barbecued,” he recalls. “I watched how they used every bit of the pig for cooking.”
But it wasn’t until the Asconi family moved to Virginia that Asconi got his first job in a kitchen and his career path was determined: “I knew then I wanted to be a chef,” he says.
Here he talks about the other cooks in his family, keeping calm amid chaos in a busy kitchen and the career he imagined aside from cooking.
Q: Did you go to culinary school?
A: No, I didn’t. I had an opportunity to play college football at Bridgewater College, something I just couldn’t pass up.
Q: Do you come from a family of cooks?
A: I’m Italian on my dad’s side, so it’s safe to say that, yes, everyone is a cook in my family. My dad was a pastry chef and cook at a country club in Florida.
Q: What was life like in your Italian kitchen growing up?
A: Watching my grandmother and my mom and dad cook my whole life has definitely helped build my passion for food. I have vivid memories of my grandmother dropping zeppoles into a cast-iron Dutch oven. Every time those memories flash through my head, I think about how I got here and the choice I made to become a chef.
Q: Whom do you consider your mentor?
A: My dad.
Q: Beside Old Gilman Grill, what restaurants are on your resume?
A: Macaroni Grill, Chop House, Big River Grille, Mellow Mushroom, Stir and Scottie’s on the River.
Q: West Village is a growing, happening part of town. How do you like working in that environment?
A: It definitely keeps us busy. With West Village becoming a more known and trafficked part of town, it has been exciting to keep up with business. It’s been a great place to get my food out there to locals and a lot of visitors to the area with all the hotels around us.
Q: A kitchen as busy as yours can be a hectic place. How do you maintain calm in the chaos?
A: Meeting chaos with chaos never turns out well. I find if I can keep myself calm and controlled, all my chefs and cooks feed off of that energy. It’s not complicated, so why make it that way? A cool, calm passion for cooking is all we need, and making jokes and keeping it light back there in the kitchen, in all the heat and chaos, helps.
Q: What trend, if any, are you liking these days?
A: As a chef with an Italian heritage, pasta is a big part of my diet. I’ve seen homemade pastas as a trend and have even thought about starting a YouTube channel and make a different new pasta in every video.
Q: What trend do you think is overused?
A: Avocado toast.
Q: Name the one piece of kitchen equipment you could not work without.
A: My utility knife, nonstick rubber spatula, or my dishwashers — not the machine, the employees!
Q: Complete this sentence. If I had not become a chef, I would be
A: A cowboy in Montana.
Q: Is there a particular spice that you’re liking these days?
A: Saffron. I have a lemongrass-vermouth-saffron cream sauce on our menu right now that might be one of the most unique-tasting sauces I’ve ever made.
Q: What’s your favorite thing on the menu to cook?
A: Our scallops risotto. There’s something so satisfying about perfectly searing scallops. And don’t even get me started on risotto.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: It’s not much of a “guilty” pleasure, but sandwiches of any kind, any time of day.
Q: What was your first restaurant job?
A: Macado’s in Blacksburg, Virginia. I was a sandwich maker.
Zeppoles are traditional Italian pastries that are best served warm and dusted with powdered sugar. This recipe is from Patrick Asconi’s grandmother.
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
2 quarts frying oil, heated to 375 degrees
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Whisk eggs and vanilla together until beaten. Stir in ricotta cheese. In a medium saucepan, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the egg mixture. Mix gently over low heat until combined.
Drop by tablespoons into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, 3 or 4 minutes. Drain. Place in a paper sack with powdered sugar, and shake bag to cover zeppoles.