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42 at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester

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Chef Anthony Goncalves never went to cooking school. He never started as a dishwasher or cooked under an award-winning chef. He never ran a large-scale operation. And yet, he is the chef and co-owner behind the 210-seat, 27,000 square-foot restaurant, 42 at the Ritz-Carlton Westchester, which sits atop the tallest building between Boston and New York with postcard worthy views of the Manhattan skyline and Hudson River Valley. How did Goncalves achieve such success in an industry so ridden with competition and closures? Equal parts talent, passion, charisma and, of course, a faithful Westchester investor. After convincing his parents to invest in a small bar (Trotters Tavern) in White Plains, Goncalves forayed his way into the restaurant industry, first as a restaurateur, and later as the chef, turning the bar into the restaurant Trotters. It was here that Goncalves met Louis Capelli, a developer working on the aforementioned hotel. “I didn’t care what his background was,” Capelli told TIME magazine. “He had the dedication, the sincerity, the way of treating customers. I could see he wanted to do more. He was the right person.”


“I don’t care much about how to get people in the door. . . if you take
care of people, they will return. i’m not an absentee guy; i’m always there.”
—Anthony Goncalves


“My mother said Louis was a guardian angel,” admits Goncalves. “He approached me about this restaurant after watching me work for 10 years. He liked my style, and the dynamic my family brought to Trotters, and I was looking to expand, so we came up with a structured deal: Louis would fund it, and I would do my end by maintaining the space and running the kitchen.” And so, nearly 17 million dollars later, 42 was born. It was 2008 and Goncalves was on a mission to create food that pays homage to both the bountiful Hudson Valley and his Iberian roots. The American-born chef grew up in a Portuguese household, one that summered in the Iberian Peninsula, where Goncalves first discovered and fell in love with the cuisines and flavors of Portugal and Spain, which, according to Goncalves, are not unlike one another. “My grandfather was a big game fisherman, so I grew up eating really beautiful, fresh fish, prepared very simply; which is how I cook today,” he says. “As I watch the seasons change, my food changes as well. Delicious eating is about quality and simple preparation that doesn’t mask anything.”

 

Iberian Roots
Goncalves’ menu is a reflection of his distinct cooking style, which blends American, Portuguese, and Spanish techniques and flavors. His Portuguese fried chicken, for example, is marinated in pimentón, bay leaf and garlic, then fried and served with garlicky kale and, “Southern cheddar grits with a tomato honey that reminds me of breakfast in Portugal,” says Goncalves. He also does a Portuguese-inspired seaweed linguine dish, with pork, clams, potatoes and vinegar peppers, as well as a duck rice, an old Portuguese staple. “I treat the duck like a sausage, adding garlic, pimentón and onions, and then I confit the legs in the duck fat so you get the essence of Portuguese sausage.”

Desserts, however, are decidedly American. “I do love Portuguese pastry, but not as much as what I grew up eating in America. So we take American driven desserts, like corn cake with blueberries or root beer floats, and do them in a modern way.” Similarly, the cocktail program shines. “When you sit down in our lounge you feel right at home, and the wine program boasts immense variety from all over the world,” says beverage director Louis Fata, who admits to choosing labels and brands simply based on what tastes most delicious. That’s not to say it’s easy. “Offering such a huge selection of wine and spirits is difficult, as we never want to run out of anything, nor do we want to carry a half million-dollar inventory,” explains Fata. “Keeping a close eye on everything requires lots of hours spent at the restaurant, a computerized inventory system, and a concrete formula for markups.”

 

We’ve evolved to be more approachable and inclusive,
while retaining class, surprise, and personality.” —Colin Mead


Fata also recommends prepping with caution. “Not over prepping is extremely important, as we do everything fresh, like juices. Similarly, not throwing out excess at the end of day is imperative.”

 

Creating the Team
Finding and maintaining good staff is paramount to a successful operation. “We are selective with our staff and then cultivate them to greatness,” says Goncalves, who adds that paying staff well is key. “If you don’t take care of your staff, they won’t take care of you and make you a success.” Though he’s found some of his best staffers from culinary programs in Portugal, general manager Colin Mead also uses local and regional help wanted listing sites, and has instituted an employee referral program. “We have created a family-like environment and continually strive to appreciate our employees in a variety of ways,” says Mead. Goncalves agrees, and suggests looking first for great personalities, and second for experience. “We want the great personality, not the waiter who moves around every year. I can train anybody, but if I have the wrong people working for me, it doesn’t work.” Fata seconds that notion: “You don’t find amazing bartenders; we grow them. Lots of literature and testing along with constant demonstration are keys to maintaining consistency and ensuring our bartenders are top notch.” As such, training is ongoing for all staff members including front of the house, kitchen, events, and office support staff.


Challenges and Evolution
Despite Goncalves success, it hasn’t always been easy. “It’s a small population here, so the challenge is not to become complacent and be the best you can be. If you sleep on it, it’s going to go.” His secret: take care of the people who are already there. “I don’t care much about how to get people in the door, that’s why I have PR. But if you take care of people, they will return. I’m not an absentee guy; I’m always there.” Part of that includes evolving over time. In fact, Goncalves has decided to put in over $1 million of his own money to renovate the restaurant this year and make it more casual. “I’ve gone from tweezer food to real food.” When 42 first opened, Goncalves says he wanted to do 100 covers a night with a seven-course tasting menu at $140 a head. Today, he wants to do 200 covers with an a la carte menu to take away the formality of the restaurant. “You’ll be able to come in and have a three-course dinner for two with a bottle of wine and coffee service for $120. It’s reasonable to dine here and that’s where our success lies.” Adds Mead: “We designed the business model to elevate the standards for fine dining, and we’ve evolved to be more approachable and inclusive, while retaining class, surprise, and personality.” But perhaps Goncalves biggest reason for success is his partnership with Capelli. “I have a great partner, I’m just lucky. We understand and respect each other, and that’s what creates that great feeling at the restaurant for us, our employees, and, ultimately, the guest.”

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