For Executive Chef at Anthony’s, Satisfaction Is in the Smile
Anthony’s Trattoria in Beach Haven, an intimate place with about 40 seats, specializing in brick oven pizza and traditional Italian fare, has an executive chef named Stephen Benzinger who wants his guests to leave not just with full bellies but also with big smiles that say they enjoyed the whole experience.
Benzinger, 31, grew up in Barnegat and got his start when he was in high school at Mona Lisa Restaurant and then Marchioni’s, both casual Italian eateries, before going to Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, where he ran the steakhouse, was immersed in a fast-paced food environment and gained exposure to many different styles of foodservice, from buffet and casual to fine and banquet dining.
In Atlantic City he was involved in helping to open Viking Cooking School, which he ran for a while and loved because it allowed him to interact with the students, a nice change from being “stuck in the kitchen.” He’s a people-person, he said. At Anthony’s he has an open kitchen so he can see the dining room – he enjoys feeling a connection with the people he’s feeding.
He followed a prominent South Jersey chef, Luke Palladino, to Pennsylvania and with him opened LP Steak in the Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia in September 2015. In May, having grown weary of the casino atmosphere, Benzinger moved back east and now lives in Ventnor. LP closed in August.
In his observation, the hardest part of running a successful restaurant is managing all the various layers of the business effectively, he said, given inventory and timing are paramount when the product is perishable.
Opening his own restaurant someday is a “down-the-road aspiration,” he said, but for now he is happy to be designing his own menu for Anthony’s, to be unveiled this summer. It’s still in the planning phase, he said, as he plays around and tries out new recipes in search of the most outstanding.
Benzinger believes a guest can easily tell the difference between a meal the chef has created himself, and one he has merely cooked. A signature dish “becomes part of you,” he said. Look forward to his homemade ricotta gnocchi, among other more steak-centric dishes along the lines of chops, veal, lamb and beef.
“I just love cooking – doesn’t matter what kind of food,” he said. —V.F.