Welcome to Ask the Chef, a new signature ct.com series, in which we will get to know the incredible talent behind some of Connecticut’s most innovative restaurants. We are honored to premiere with Billy Grant: chef, restaurateur, and philanthropist. A video with highlights of the Q & A is below – along with a recap of his interview (note: some questions and answers may be paraphrased and edited for content).
How did you start as a chef?
Angie Ray’s in East Hartford, along with my father and brothers. We build a franchise with attention to detail and “no resting on your laurels.” When my father passed in 1988, one brother became a pilot, and two others went into bartending. I worked under my uncle and then went to work for the Max group at the original Max on Main. I always knew I wanted to do “culinary, chef inspired cuisine.” Along with the incredible mentors I worked under, there was a lot of reading and self teaching. I opened Bricco, West Hartford, eighteen years ago, when my son was one year old.
Describe your food for us?
The important buzzwords for me are: simple fresh, delicious and honest. I believe in “grammatically correct service.” It’s important to be customer focused, seasonal, and locally grown, with respect for both the Italian and Italian-American traditions.
If you were to compete on “Top Chef” – what would your signature dish be?
Ideally? A perfectly roasted chicken. I believe in using the best product and tampering with it as little as possible. But I think it’s important to note that “Top Chef” is a huge challenge which involves a lot of thinking on your feet and last minute decision making. I’m a planner, and I have respect for the contestants’ ability to improvise.
Have you ever thought of doing a cookbook?
Oh yes. I’ve even gone through a couple rough drafts, but being a father comes first. Someday down the road, perhaps…
What, in your opinion, are the best and worst restaurant trends?
I think the ‘tired’ trend of over-garnishing is, thankfully, on its way out. Less is more, and for a while, it seemed every plate had an elaborate and unnecessary vertical presentation – fried leeks for example. The new trend is “less is more:” respecting your ingredients and the traditions behind them. This is especially important with Italian cooking.
What else drives you?
I’ve been proud to be the chair person of Share Our Strength in Hartford for several years, along with Angela Pitrone. This year’s event is April 11th, and it’s just an incredible opportunity to give back, as all proceeds go to charity with a focus on ending hunger in our community. I am proud to be part of an industry that is great at giving.