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How Family and Home Inspired Chef Ben Kacmarcik

The Executive Chef of Fresco by Scotto in New York City, Ben Kacmarcik, shares how his love of cooking came from the nurturing of his family and the ingredients available in his hometown of Seattle.

Chef Ben Kacmarcik outside of Fresco by Scotto in NYC. Photo by Andrew Cotto.

Ben Kacmarcik has been the Executive Chef at Fresco by Scotto since the legendary NYC restaurant’s reopening in 2021. A 2007 graduate of Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he has worked at various restaurants through New York, including Dovetail, Park Ave Café, STK, Rock Center Café, and, most recently, on the re-opening team of Pastis.

He would call his style “refined rustic,” and he enjoys finding recognizable country dishes your grandmother would make and reinterpret them to be suitable for a business dinner or night on the town with the company you find most important.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Kacmarcik finds inspiration in the local cuisine of the Pacific Northwest and in the culinary example set forth by his family. “People might not realize that nostalgia is an ingredient,” he says, “but I look at all of these ingredients as memories.”

Pesto

I think like most people who pursue a culinary career, there's some family member involved. This, for me, started with my grandmother. Her house kind of resembled those in the hills of France, and she had a really cool garden. She would always have fresh herbs, so she would make pesto every year in the summer and then she'd freeze batches of it. As a result, pesto is one of my inspirations since it reminds me of her, obviously, but it's also super versatile. You can put it on pasta; you can use it in sandwiches. It even makes a dressing or an aioli. Besides being a versatile vessel for things, it's very refreshing. And, yeah, it reminds me of my childhood.

Geoduck

I grew up in Seattle, so a big part of my childhood was seafood. There’s the ones we all know, like salmon, halibut, mussels, and clams, but there’s one relatively unknown clam outside of the northwest, geoduck, that is very popular. geoduck is like an enormous clam. It's about the size of a softball. The siphon or the hose is around three feet long. You blanch the siphon and pull off the outer layer. Then you just slice it very thin and serve it like sashimi with a little bit of lemon juice, sea salt, and olive oil. It’s delicious, very clean, and has a crunchy texture. It's also an aphrodisiac. So, if you want to go out on a good date, I recommend the geoduck.

Grilling

My father also inspired my cooking, and while he was a good cook in general, grilling was his thing. He’d do meats and fish, oysters, and barbecue. He made grilling into a fun experience in a primitive, simple way, where it's just wood, fire, and meat. Grilling always reminds of the good times, back in the summer with my dad. Most importantly, he would also spend time with me, teaching me how to grill, and that was an introduction into the techniques I actually went on to learn in school at the CIA. Some fathers had a Lazy Boy as their domain, my father had the grill.

Fritta and Pasta

My grandmother was French and Italian, and when I was younger, we would cook together on Sundays. She taught me how to make frittatas in the morning, which is not that hard, but it’s a great way to get your hands into cooking. In the afternoon, she would show me how to roll pasta, which also had me using my hands. It was through this, noticing how engaged I was, that my mother recognized my connection to food and, also recognized my need for a job at the time, encouraged me to find work with food, and that started my journey, right out of high school, to the CIA.

Charcuterie

One thing I learned at the CIA and that I really enjoy is charcuterie. I love making pates, en croute, sausages, and any sort of forcemeat. It’s a fun, hands-on, and engaging talent. It’s also a practice that is kind of lost. It’s difficult to make your own charcuterie in-house, depending on the restaurant and the volume of stuff you have to do. I can do simple torchons here at Fresco, but I’ll never to be able to make my own sausages. When I do get the chance to do this, though, I find it very therapeutic. It’s something about the process. The technique and time. The cradling. It’s almost like having a baby. You have to take care of it, nurture it, make sure every step of the way is done as best as you can do it. Hopefully, what you make is perfect as you want it.

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