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Angelo Competiello Has Found the Sweet Spot Between Italian and Italian-American

The first-generation Italian-American chef, butcher, and entrepreneur has had a busy year, beating Bobby Flay, getting ready to open a new restaurant, and bridging the gap between two cultures that can be at odds.

Angelo Competiello
Photo: Phil Buccellato|

Angelo Competiello is getting ready to open his latest venture, a restaurant and provisions shop in Suffern, NY called Alta Irpinia.

Angelo Competiello tells a funny story about going on a blind date with a girl who said to him, “I thought you’d be more Guido.” When he asked why, she told him she’d made the assumption that he was a stereotypical Italian character because he owned a pork store and had such an Italian-sounding name.

Competiello, who has spent most of his life living and working in the suburbs of New York and New Jersey, may have the vowel count and the background to fit a certain stereotype, but he is infinitely more thoughtful and talented than the gangsters and buffoons that Hollywood regularly trots out as examples of Italian-Americans.

He is also having a hell of a year.

Angelo Competiello and Bobby Flay
Angelo Competiello beat Bobby Flay on an episode that aired this spring on The Food Network, "Under the Tuscan Sun."

In fact, Competiello started out 2023 with a high-profile appearance on The Food Network’s Tailgate Takedown, winning a top prize (the “Yum-Bardi Trophy”) and $300. That was small change compared to his next Food Network takedown, competing on—and winning—Beat Bobby Flay in April. Since then, Competiello has launched an opinionated new food podcast, “Over the Coals,” contributed an excellent story about hanging out with an idol for the launch of Appetito ("My Dream Day with Dario Cecchini"), and is about to open his long-awaited restaurant and shop, Alta Irpinia, in the suburban New York village of Suffern, about 30 miles from Manhattan. 

Between TV appearances and putting the finishing touches on Alta Irpinia, Competiello frequently cooks at events on behalf of brands both Italian and Italian-American. He is a son of the New York City suburbs, but also a son of Italy, in a way, and he navigates the two better than just about any chef out there.

It’s an important distinction, especially these days. The food world in general tends to reward “authenticity,” and in the Italian subset of the food world, that means staying true to regional cuisines and traditions. Competiello, whose father was born and raised in Avellino, Italy before moving to the U.S. at age 11, takes a more open-minded approach. He serves as the official Taste Ambassador for the city of Genoa, Italy, but may fight you if you tell him that Italian-American food is inauthentic.

“I'm a stickler for respecting and practicing the traditional stuff, but I also feel like if you can make something delicious by combining elements of cultures, I don't think that should be something looked down upon,” he says.

sandwich
An in-development sandwich from Angelo Competiello at Alta Irpinia.

To that end, Competiello calls Italian-American food “probably the most common cultural food in the country,” citing the popularity of everything from pizza to chicken parm. He could easily add Italian sandwiches and porchetta, two items in particular that have kept him and his family afloat for two generations, dating to when his immigrant father starting working in pork stores as a teen, and continuing through to today, when he himself is known as “The Porchetta King,” for his elaborate rolled pork dish. 

All of these things will inform the offerings at Alta Irpinia, a name that pays homage to his father’s hilly home region in southern Italy, while also referencing the hilly Hudson Valley-adjacent village that the eagerly anticipated restaurant will serve. Competiello’s and Alta Irpinia’s Instagram pages (@mind_machine and @alta_irpinia) hint at the Italian and Italian-American specialties to come, from wood-fired pizzas to meat and cheese-filled sandwiches, pasta, antipasti, and more.

Having come down from the thrill of beating Bobby Flay, an experience he describes as nerve-wracking, “going up against one of the most heralded chefs,” Competiello sounds focused on the opening, rather than, say, chasing after the next TV opportunity. 

He’s committed to serving the foods he loves, whether Italian, Italian-American, or something between the two, in a place that he calls home. 

porchetta
Angelo Competiello's prowess in creating a certain rolled pork dish has earned him the name "The Porchetta King."

Still, while he can laugh off a date assuming he’d be a “Guido,” Competiello sounds dead serious about making sure that he can play a part in connecting Italian-American culture with Italian culture, and overcoming the Hollywood stereotypes that have led to characters like “Joey from Friends,” he says with a sigh. 

Besides, he adds, marginalizing Italian-American culture means overlooking delicious food. “Italian-American food is just like a beautiful thing because it came from people trying to cook the best they could with their own food from necessity.” For instance, Calabrese who invented pepperoni because they couldn’t find the sausage from their homeland. 

He goes on to note that it goes both ways. “They’re making burgers in Italy right now everywhere you go,” Competiello says with a laugh.


Alta Irpinia, 57 Lafayette Ave, Suffern, NY 10901, opening soon

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