At the helm of five successful restaurants, the Catania-native chef continues his journey by opening a second floor for his flagship restaurant, right across from Central Park.
Piccola Cucina:the Rise of Philip Guardione in New York
Italian cuisine is, as we know, the most exported in the world. But what specific Italian cuisine do foreigners, especially Americans, like? It took Philip Guardione, an Italian chef currently leading five restaurants under the "Piccola Cucina" brand, some time to understand.
"In order to succeed abroad, the most important thing is the ingredient, which should take the lead. In New York, the clientele is international; people want to eat something they can easily distinguish. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most challenging place of all, because you can eat well everywhere, and the quality is very high. In our case, Americans want to relive the experience of the region we come from, like a journey to Sicily."
Born in Catania, raised in Francavilla, and trained at the Giarre hotel school, Guardione worked with Sergio Mei, at Carpaccio by Alberico Penati, and at Taillevent by Alain Solivérès before landing in New York and opening his first Piccola Cucina in 2009. Here, the method was the most classic "try and error." Starting with fine dining dishes, which perhaps the American palate was not ready for, he then focused on typical Sicilian cuisine, but with revisions in techniques and presentations.
This led to dishes like arancine and parmigiana, pasta alla norma, black ink squid, or sea urchins, served, perhaps, family-style in the cooking pot, just like at home. The formula, when Sicilian cuisine was still unknown in the city, immediately garnered great success, prompting Guardione to open a second restaurant, Piccola Cucina Enoteca, followed by Piccola Cucina Osteria and Piccola Cucina Estiatorio. All the way to Ibiza and Red Lodge, Montana.
The flagship, however, is Piccola Cucina Uptown, basically in front of Central Park, a more refined restaurant that started in the unfortunate year of 2020 but managed to survive. The news is that it has grown to the point of requiring expansion. In May, Guardione, with his wife and daughters, launched the restaurant's second floor, including a cozy bar, an open kitchen with a Spanish grill, and a terrace for summer dinners.
"There was a strong demand to meet, but we also wanted to create a slightly different space for banquets, not on a large scale, in addition to à la carte dining. We had never had a separate kitchen, so it was difficult to do both. This way, we have solved it and are starting this new business. The decor is also different from the other locations, more vibrant, less rustic, and more Park Avenue."
Piccola Cucina Osteria, thanks to its popular formula, has just received recognition as a "Hidden Gem" by Tripadvisor USA, entering the top 10 list and receiving the Travelers' Choice Best of the Best - U.S. Restaurants Award. "To continue in this line of work, a lot of manpower is needed, which is increasingly difficult to find because many want a different life than the crazy hours of the past. Yet, it's a beautiful job where you can achieve your potential and create a bright future. We need to re-motivate the young generation. Just here in New York, we are around 150, more or less, but it's getting tougher. Decent hours need to be set, and schools must inspire young people, letting them travel and connect with the right environment."