Nobody would blame you if you walked into Bistrot Leo and were convinced you’d entered a chic French brasserie, tucked away on some charming Parisian side street, via magic portal. But in reality, the hit restaurant is ideally situated in the heart of downtown Manhattan, nestled within the ever-trendy SIXTY SoHo hotel.
Owner John McDonald is one of the leading forces in New York’s dynamic culinary scene; he’s the same man behind iconic eateries like El Toro Blanco, Lure Fishbar and Bowery Meat Company. When it came time to rebrand his Italian staple Sessanta, he knew Chef Brian Loiacono was the perfect partner with whom to lead the project.
Chef Loiacono’s extensive background in French cuisine includes an impressive résumé, including sous chef at Restaurant Daniel, Bar Boulud and Executive Chef at db Bistro Moderne. His passion and expertise has led Bistrot Leo to incredible heights, and in the wake of beloved bistro’s one-year anniversary, Loiacono shares five key lessons he’s learned along the way.
1. Keep it Simple While Loving the Classics
“It’s been a rewarding first year since we’ve opened the doors at Bistrot Leo. I’ve been in awe of classical French preparations at a young age. Starting at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saison with Raymond Blanc out of high school and following with most of my twenties under Daniel Boulud, I’ve been trained to love and respect the classics; the simplicity of it all. That’s really coming through at Leo, I love the satisfaction I see on some of the chefs and cooks faces when they nail a classical preparation they’ve been working on.”
2. Foster a Team that Cooks with Pride
“I’ve learned a lot over the years, as any willing person is able to do. We all know you’re only as good as your team, but I’ve truly enjoyed defining what that really means. Everyone who’s putting the time and effort in is worth teaching properly, I genuinely enjoy working with people who are as committed as I have been over the years. For me, it’s all about cooking with a sense of pride in your work. From how well you wash your hands to the viscosity of your bordelaise it should all make you happy you woke up in the morning.”
3. Focus on Education and the Future of Chefs
“I sacrificed going to college to get dirty in the cooking world. Now, at 31, I’m finishing a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with Purdue University Global online. I have no plans to change careers or anything like that, but I’d recommend to any chef to learn the science behind the passion. It’s fascinating and has shined light on new interests and even more opportunity to learn/grow. Being a chef has come such a long way. There’s so much to learn, so many to learn from. The future is in educating yourself.”
4. Know Your Ingredients and the Importance of Sourcing
“There is just so much out there nowadays. Learn about agricultural engineering, understand the whys and hows. I love the farmer’s market in Union Square and many others, but there are so many people doing so many exciting things, it’s challenging to keep up.”
5. Continue Learning More About Yourself
“Not everyone knows exactly what they want in life. As a chef, you spend a lifetime asking and reminding yourself what makes you happiest to cook; a place, a feeling, a memory. My family is a huge influence to me, but I really enjoy asking myself this question often: ‘What makes me happy?'”