If all the world’s a stage, then Danny Veltri is performing nightly in Atlantic City’s tastiest new venue.
In an affirmation that the line is blurred between food and entertainment, Veltri, the season 5 winner of the Fox television reality series Hell’s Kitchen, is instantly recognized as a celebrity as he strolls through the bar and dining rooms of Fornelletto Cucina Italiano, a new restaurant at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa.
As part of his winner’s package — which included a $250,000 prize — Veltri has taken a job as one of five sous chefs in chef Stephen Kalt’s restaurant, which opened late last month.
For Veltri, a 25-year-old whose talent and kitchen credentials belie his youth, the casino gig has been like stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“I’ve always worked for the mom-and-pop independent places, so this is my first real taste of the corporate world,” says Veltri, who came to Atlantic City after serving as executive chef at a small beachfront restaurant called Flip Flops Grill & Chill in New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
“A busy night for me used to be 300 or 400 people,” he added. “Busy nights at Borgata are like 800 people. It’s a whole different world.”
Veltri has had to make a lot of adjustments, both professionally and personally, to adapt to the pressure-cooker environment of a high-volume gourmet casino restaurant, not the least of which is a radical change in cuisine.
In Florida, he specialized in developing and preparing so-called “Floribbean” dishes, which combine the fresh fish, flavors and cooking techniques indigenous to Florida and the Caribbean. In Fornelletto, he’s had to master a large, ambitious and innovative Italian menu created by Kalt.
Kalt is familiar with making such an adjustment. He received his classical training as a French chef in the kitchen of New York’s legendary Le Cirque restaurant. It wasn’t until after he spent extensive time traveling through Italy that Kalt began exploring and developing Italian dishes.
But Veltri wasn’t concerned about changing cooking styles. He may not have been an Italian chef before coming to Fornelletto, but he knows his way around an Italian kitchen.
“My family is Italian and I watched my grandmother cook all the time, so I’ve been around Italian food my whole life,” he says.
Another adjustment for Veltri has been adapting to the Atlantic City lifestyle. Born in Sarasota, Fla., he’s worked in several laid-back restaurants. Now, this small-town kid is trying to fit into a hectic 24/7 environment.
In Florida, he enjoyed hunting, fishing and surfing in his free time. But since signing on at Borgata shortly after the announcement of his Hell’s Kitchen win in mid-May, he’s had little time to check out the local beach scene. And beyond a short deer and duck season in southern New Jersey, there aren’t many hunting opportunities, either.
“I don’t think I’d have much time for that anyway,” he says. “This new job consumes a lot of my time. The whole [restaurant] profession does.”
Besides cooking in Fornelletto’s, Veltri also helped Kalt open Roma, a new casual eatery at Borgata with a grab-and-go menu focusing on the three “Ps” of Italian fare — pizza, pasta and paninis.
Veltri began his culinary career at 15 scrubbing pots at the bottom of the kitchen food chain. He quickly worked his way onto the line as a chef. In spite of his youth, he’s hoping he’ll be accepted by the rest of Fornelletto’s kitchen staff, some of whom have been in the business longer than Veltri’s been alive.
“It’ll be interesting to see if I’m accepted or shunned like some guy who just walked in here from nowhere,” he says.
Not that the confident-bordering-on-cocky chef cares. Early in Hell’s Kitchen, he showed he doesn’t care what people think of him. Still, he’s treading lightly in the new kitchen.
“I’m not coming in here swinging my battle axe,” he says. “I’m going to ease my way in and get established.”
Since taking charge of the subterranean space known as Fornelletto in 2009, New York City native Stephen Kalt has put his own distinctive spin on its cuisine, and attitude.
This is the first year the Borgata is blending an "outside" chef into the mix. It is also the first-year that the Borgata will preface the Nov. 12 celebration with a Savor Borgata Restaurant Week, which will run from Sunday, Nov. 6 to Friday, Nov. 11.
“I know a lot of people with money, and they don't know how to live de life. I live de life, and you must live de life," Samuels says before the music starts.
NYE 2013 Shows in Atlantic City
Hall Passes on Moody Blues Again
Steve Martin in Atlantic City
Atlantic City Summer Concerts