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Daily Inspiration: Meet Eric Vollono

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Vollono. 

Hi Eric, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I started cooking around the age of 17 on the “Nautical Mile” in my hometown of Freeport, NY in Long Island. 

My mother was always a huge supporter of my, at the time, misguided and “interesting” creations, and getting a culinary degree at Johnson and Wales in Providence seemed like a great way to learn more and stay close 

to my family. 

After a few years growing up in kitchens in Rhode Island I moved to Chicago. I wanted that big city life and after growing up in New York I wanted to experience something new and different. Chicago was a perfect fit for me. 

The job that changed how I thought about food was Table 52. One of my friends offered me an opportunity that 

would change my culinary direction forever at Table 52 Art Smith’s (Oprah’s former personal chef) flagship restaurant. I had some amazing chefs and cooks who shared their passion for food and the dedication to be great at what they do every day. It really taught me how to be part of a strong team, work hard, and what it meant to be a leader at all levels. 

With a solid base in place, I knew I wanted to grow and learn as much and as quickly as I could. 

I then went to work for 2008’s Food and Wine’s Best New Chef, Giuseppe Tentori. At both of his restaurants, BOKA, a one-star Michelin and GT Fish and Oyster, a bib Gourmand recipient. I worked as a prep cook at GT Fish and Oyster in the mornings and as a line cook at BOKA in the evenings. Chef Tentori taught me how to make delicious handmade pasta and the proper way to prepare and handle seafood. 

At BOKA I learned ways to change textures, refine flavors, and create balance on a plate. It was like experiencing a world of constant improvement under the most incredibly rewarding pressure. Constantly sharpening execution and flavors, you feel yourself getting better every day and you are surrounded by talent and everyone pulled in the same direction. It was amazing, I knew food could be a way of life and I wanted more of that. 

After BOKA, I went to work for Bill Kim. Chef Bill was running two amazing Southeast Asian fusion restaurants out of the same space, Urban Belly a ramen, dumpling and fried rice concept, one of the first ramen spots in 

Chicago and BellyQ, an American-style BBQ fused with Asian ingredients and styles. I fell in love with Southeast Asian food and it remains one of my favorite regions to visit and one of my favorite styles to make and eat. 

From there I went to work at David Burke’s Primehouse as a Sous Chef. Working in a steakhouse in Chicago is a must. Primehouse was one of the best Chicago had to offer, an in-house butcher, an amazing salt-lined aging room to practice charcuterie on, and one of the most nurturing chefs I’ve ever worked for, Dino Tzaknis. I learned from him how to stay organized on costs, product management, large animal butchery, and understanding personnel. I finally felt like it was all coming together and I felt like a chef, and a leader. 

I knew what I was looking for in my next job. I staged all around Chicago until I found Band of Bohemia, a one-star Michelin restaurant looking for an Executive Sous Chef. We specialized in high-end food paired with high-end craft beer brewed on-site; a concept created by 2 veterans from Alinea. At the time it was the only one star in the world with its own brewing program. We infused savory ingredients into our beers and paired the tasting menu around the beer. We had to think on our feet and were a close-knit team who designed the menu and managed that restaurant with a sense of creative purpose and drive. We were named one of the 50 best restaurants in Chicago and Retained our Michelin Star twice. 

During my time at Band, my girlfriend and I visited New Orleans, fell in love with everything about the city, and got married there so we decided to buy a double shotgun house in the Irish Channel for a complete change of pace. I had an opportunity to work for 2017’s Food and Wine Best New Chef and 2018’s James Beard South winner, Nina Compton as her Executive Sous Chef at Compere Lapin, a restaurant infusing Saint Lucian/Caribbean flavors with French Creole and Italian. 

After a time, an opportunity to join the Leblanc and Smith Group as Executive Chef of Cavan came to me. This was a one-of-a-kind restaurant in the heart of the Irish Channel and Garden District in an incredibly old, incredibly beautiful Southern mansion. This was a place I could stretch my creative limbs and I was able to build a fantastic staff with an extremely supportive owner. 

Unexpectedly my wife got an opportunity to advance her career in IT in Denver. So, the Vollonos headed west! 

After moving to Denver, I started Chef Eric Vollono’s Private Dining (in the middle of a pandemic!). It has allowed me an opportunity to grow in so many ways and gives me much more flexibility than the continual grind of restaurant life. I design and provide high-end tasting menus for my clients where I can pull from my entire creative repertoire to offer an enormous variety of food styles incorporating my favorite flavors and seasonal products. The range of events I’ve done in the past year has been amazing; everything from intimate 2-6 top 7-course tasting menus to 200 person weddings. In between gigs, I travel and eat at as many restaurants in as many different cities as I can. I also stage at high-end restaurants from time to time to continue to build my network and stay sharp. In the past 6 months, I visited San Francisco and St John in the US Virgin Islands. Next on the list is Seattle and Copenhagen and Italy as soon as the world opens up again. 

During my time as a private chef here in Denver, I was named brand ambassador for Airbnb for Colorado and also sponsor and partner products and events with Take a Chef, Puffco, Valentich, LeCreuset, Rare Tea, and D’Artagnan from time to time. I love that I continue to be able to work with wonderful creative people in the Denver private chef and restaurant community. While the pandemic threw everyone a curveball it’s also given me time, like I think it has given everyone, to appreciate what really matters in life and stay true to my journey as a professional chef. I can’t wait to see where this next year takes me, my food, and my guests. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I love Southeast Asian culture and food. I love to read about it, eat it and experiment with it. The first Christmas together my girlfriend (now wife) who is half Korean and I had together we pickled things for fun, including kimchi, and gifted it to her mom who is from Korea. I think Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese styles and flavors blend nicely with French, Caribbean, and Latin American flavors and techniques so I am always trying new things with pickled vegetables, how to prepare fresh fish, and a variety of spicy and umami sauces. I often incorporate home pickled elements and sauces that I have created from scratch into my private dining menus to add depth, brightness, and flavor. I’ve done pickling classes as well which I find is a great way to take seasonal items, transform their flavor profile and teach people the art of pickling. 

I am currently talking with some of the pastry chefs I used to work with and diving into my cookbooks to learn more about the pastry process and create new desserts.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
They can book me for private events through the form on my website (chefericvollono.com), or reach out to directly at (info@chefericvollono.com) if they are interested in doing a pop-up, culinary instruction, or would like a chef sponsor for any of their products. 

Pricing:

  • $65 – $180 (Private Dinners) per person depending on size and complexity of the menu
  • $45-$75 Restaurant Management Consulting
  • $45-$75 as a per hour rate for my restaurant management consulting.

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Jeff Fierberg
Kristen Mendiola

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