A Flavorful Life
Grand Marquis’s executive chef, Tomaso Vacca uses his sweeping experience to conjure the deliciously unexpected at every event.
by Samantha Faragalli Younghans • photos by Patty Pixels
Tomaso Vacca was working as an interior designer when he was inspired by a friend to take a different route.
“I was against it initially,” he recalled of his decision to enter the culinary world. “But I had that finesse touch that made things look nice in the end, so I thought I’d just apply that to cooking and plating.”
Vacca was born in Italy and raised in Bayonne, and has these roots to thank for sparking knowledge of and talents in the kitchen. “Being a young kid in an Italian family and always cooking at the house, my mom got me involved,” he said. “Prepping things around the kitchen and helping her out is how I got my fundamentals.”
At 18 years old, he attended New York Restaurant School in Manhattan, and his career took o from there. Over the years, Vacca has worked in restaurants like e Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, e Lincroft Inn in Lincroft, Nicholas in Red Bank, and Daniel in Manhattan. He has also traveled to Italy, Spain, and Portugal to learn how to cook seafood and to help friends open restaurants. A year prior to Superstorm Sandy, he became owner of the successful Brick Pit Smokehouse and Grill in Manahawkin, but was forced to close its doors in the wake of the storm.
He found himself in Old Bridge in 2014, where he had previously lived with his family as a teenager. Now the Executive Chef at Grand Marquis there, Vacca applies this sweeping culinary experience in preparing menus for weddings, sweet sixteens, proms, and other events, and is particularly proud of Grand Marquis’s short ribs, braised lamb shank, bacon slab carving station, seafood station, and Toscano table.
“We do a carving bacon slab with a Jack Daniel’s honey, which is a bourbon glaze. It cooks in that for a couple hours and it’s like butter…just amazing,” he said
The chef describes the seafood cocktail station as “phenomenal” an elaborate display adorned with jumbo scallops, shrimp skewers, clams, oysters, lobster tails, crab legs, and cocktail crab claws. Then there’s Vacca’s signature octopus. “Nobody beats that dish, because I learned from a variety of culinary greats how to prepare it,” he said. “We cook the whole octopus down, marinate it, then grill it. Just wonderful.”
As an Italy native, it’s small surprise that the chef has made his Toscano table a particular “work of art” not least in its sculptural assembly of artisanal cheeses, carved fruits, and fresh Italian meats.
Asked about ingredient sourcing, Vacca explained that, “I don’t just go to one vendor and make them my one supplier, it’s not one person that makes this happen…it’s a big team and a bunch of suppliers that provide us top quality food and products.”
In addition to managing these varied vendor relationships, Vacca has made a point of turning his kitchen and its staff into a focused operation.
“I have a very talented team with diverse backgrounds that bring a lot to the table,” he said. “It’s not just about long days working hard; they care about the food and love what they do. at makes all the difference at the end of the day.”
Vacca especially values spreading culinary knowledge, which is why he sees himself teaching one day
But for now, Vacca prides himself on educating the Grand Marquis staff, and he’s uncompromising in that pursuit.
“I have to groom them,” he said of the need to break some chefs of bad habits. “When somebody comes in the door it doesn’t matter if they’re new or old whether they have 100 or two years of experience I’m going to teach them the way I was taught, regardless of what they are accustomed to. If they learn, it’s going to keep them on board. If not, have a nice day.”
Ready to Take the Next Step?
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