Welcome to Staff Spotlight: a new monthly series where we’ll be digging deeper into the minds behind the magic. Chef Frank Langello has been the executive chef at Mario’s flagship restaurant, Babbo, for over ten years. He’s been THE most asked about member of our team, so here are some answers for you guys!
Where did you grow up? South Philly
How long have you lived in NYC? I left Philly when I was 21 years old to go to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. After graduation I lived in the city for fourteen years at 59th street and could walk to my first job at Le Cirque. Now, my wife and kids and I live on Staten Island.
When did you start at Babbo? June 10, 2000 – It was a Saturday.
Why do you remember it was a Saturday? How could I forget? I’d been waiting and waiting to get this job, two months I remember. I trailed the grill guy at Babbo after a friend gave my resume to Andy Nusser. I never heard back until Mario offered me an open position at Esca. But I told him I wanted Babbo, I wanted to be here… and so he hired me.
And what was your first position? I started at the grill because that’s what I knew. Then I was the swinger and skipped around from station to station depending on who was out or where I was needed. Couple of days on the grill, then on pasta, you know. I was then made sous chef at Babbo when Andy opened Casa Mono and I did that for three years. Now it’s been ten years as executive chef here and I think it’s set in now that I’m older, you know.
What do you mean by that? It feels like I’m where I should be as a chef and I’m becoming more of the happy guy that people want to respect and work hard for. Mario, he treats you with respect and you feel so much loyalty toward him as you move up and you want to work hard for him. I’m starting to become more of that at this point in my career and hopefully someone that people in my kitchen want as their mentor. Ask all of Mario’s general managers and chefs how long they’ve been here and you’ll understand what I mean and the loyalty we feel toward him.
Favorite restaurant of all time? Other than Babbo? Casa Mono and I’m really into Uncle Boons Thai grill downtown.
Best thing about working at Babbo? The atmosphere, the vibe, the pace.
Your go-to on the menu and why? Pig Foot “Milanese” and the rabbit. I’m trying to eat more vegetables lately and I’ve recently lost thirty pounds even. But I’m a meat guy.
Favorite thing to do in the kitchen? Least favorite? Really hate cutting autumn vegetables as does everyone in the kitchen. Love to filet and butcher fish and breaking down an animal to use all of its parts. That’s my absolute favorite thing: breaking it down and finding a way to use the whole animal.
Best short-order slang in the kitchen? “Chuckie” (laughs) or “Jackson.” Jackson came about because one of our guys purchased beef tongue so that we could try it as an entrée. But we already had a beef tongue and beet salad on the menu so I couldn’t yell out tongue. It just flashed in my mind that he purchased the beef in Jackson Heights and I yelled out “Jackson!”
Station on the line you miss most? Pasta. The mental speed of that job… There’s nothing you can plan for and you’re just in the moment.
Do you know right away if someone will make it in your kitchen? Oh I know for sure. There are three kinds of chefs that walk into this kitchen. There’s that cook who has all the confidence in the world and walks in knowing he can do the job and nails my interview. There’s the cook who’s scared and hesitant and not in the moment who can’t keep up with the pace of the kitchen. That’s the one I pull into the walk-in and have a pep talk with before sending him back on the line or telling him Babbo may not be his restaurant. Then there’s the cook that doesn’t care, that has no interest in being there or learning. I’m going with the first guy or girl, the one with excitement for trying every station.
Advice from Mario that stuck? Man, the hours spent and the lessons learned from Mario. He’s such a role model for me and has only become more so as I’ve gotten older and where I should be as a chef. He once told me that when I became a father, I should plan to not sleep or I’d never see my kids and that stuck with me. He’s right. I get up early to make their breakfast and spend time with them just like he does. Never forgot that advice.
How do you take your coffee? Straight espresso. It’s easy to be sleep deprived once you’re used to it. I can last on espresso and have learned how to power nap. My wife stays with my two kids and it’s a lot easier for me to be tired and take a shot of caffeine than it is for her to be exhausted while taking care of my son (7) and daughter (2). That’s why I let her sleep in while I get the kids ready in the morning. I swear I have an alarm for everything… she makes a lot of fun of me for that.
What music plays in the kitchen? No music. The only music in the kitchen is the cooking. You hear the sizzle and that’s loud enough.
Photo Courtesy David Gruber