There's a New Eastchester Restaurant Local Foodies Might Not Know About
The pedigreed chef at high-styled Gigante talks why he left a career in finance, the difference between Manhattan and Westchester diners, and his disdain for square plates.
Executive Chef Samuel Kim
Above photo by Ricky Restiano; food photos by John Bruno Turiano
Owners Louis Gigante Sr and Jr have gone big with their latest restaurant, Gigante Restaurant & Bar, on the grounds of Lake Isle Country Club. But what else would you expect from the men behind Mulino’s of Westchester, a dressy, intimate, white-tablecloth Northern Italian supper club type of restaurant, equally fitting for romantic couple dinners, special-occasion family feasts, and county power broker powwows. While Gigante eschews the tablecloths, wait staff in tie and vests, and other classic dining trappings, it yet retains a supper club feel, albeit with a contemporary spin. This aesthetic carries over to the menu of modern American dishes inspired by Italian fare created by executive chef Samuel Kim (with previous positions at 1789 Restaurant, Colicchio & Sons, Per Se, and Jean-Georges), and pastry chef Stephen Collucci (Cookshop, Colicchio & Sons). We talked to Kim about all things Gigante and more.
What is the inspiration/thought behind the menu at Gigante Restaurant & Bar?
Samuel Kim: “There are a lot of traditional Italian restaurants residing within a short drive of Gigante. Our sister restaurant, Mulino’s of Westchester in White Plains, located a short drive from here has been serving fantastic delicious food in this style for more than 30 years. It was important to the owners that Gigante had its own identity and was not a copy/paste of our successful restaurant close by. We wanted to stay inspired by the delicious variety Italian cuisine has to offer, while also having the freedom to take those inspirations and use them to put our take and create a Modern American dish.”
You studied finance in college and worked at an investment bank prior to entering the culinary world. What inspired you to change careers and become a chef?
SK: “I studied finance because it was an area of study that I thought was acceptable to my parents. I grew up in a traditional Korean household where education and more education was always stressed as the most important thing. Cooking was considered a blue-collar job by Koreans, and a profession for the uneducated. My parents, specifically my mother, had a really hard time understanding why I would take my career from finance to hospitality. But when you're passionate about something it can be all consuming. Cooking and more importantly eating has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up moving around quite a bit during my early childhood, and in all the countries I visited or lived in, many of my memories still today center around dishes or food I tried. So when I realized that all I would do during my off time from work was watch cooking videos and read cookbooks and then try to recreate the dish at home, maybe banking was not for me.”
Who is your culinary hero and why?
SK: “I came into cooking when Thomas Keller first exploded onto the national scene. Buying and reading the French Laundry cookbook and seeing the thought process and attention to detail that went into everything chef did opened my eyes to what a great chef can actually be.”
What are your earliest memories of cooking/the first thing you cooked?
SK: “My earliest memories of cooking started at an early age helping my grandmother pick and clean vegetables for dinner. My first meal I remember cooking from start to finish was Thanksgiving dinner in high school.”
Anyone in your family an excellent homecook?
SK: “My grandmother was an amazing cook. She still lives on in the memories I have of her delicious food.”
Any similarities between the finance and culinary industries?
SK: “There are a lot of similarities between the two industries. Both are fast paced, high stress jobs. You are always under constant deadlines. Multitasking, problem solving, staying cool under pressure are all skills essential to either job.”
Any food industry trends you wish would go away?
SK: “I'm really not into restaurants that don't have a reservation system. We all lead busy lives. I have two children under the age of 4. I will never be able to try places where you have to wait outside for 1.5 hours. I get why places do without, but it really makes it hard to try places I would like. Also, I really hate square plates. Really, really do not like them.”
Previously you've worked at some big name restaurants, including Colicchio & Sons, Per Se, and Jean-Georges. What is the biggest difference between the diners in Manhattan and those in Westchester?
SK: “Guests in the city are a little more open to trying tastes or flavors they've never tried before. Now I realize that many restaurants I worked at in the city had a famous chef's name on the front where he's already earned the trust of the public that tasty food, no matter what is ordered, will come out delicious. It will take time to earn the public's trust that we're serving quality food here at Gigante.”
What cuisines inspire your cooking the most?
“As mentioned, I grew up living and traveling all over. So I draw a lot of inspirations from these memories I had trying so many ethnically diverse foods. I'm classically trained in French food and also have always loved true Italian cuisine.”
Gigante Restaurant & Bar
660 White Plains Rd, Eastchester
Curious for more insight into everything from weddings and local business happenings to golf and hearty Westchester eating? Surf through all of our daily blogs.