When he was a child, Ron Gallo relished the big Italian family meals hosted by his grandparents in Massapequa on Long Island.
He had become interested in cooking at a young age. The second youngest of five sons in a family in which both parents worked, Gallo learned the importance of fending for himself and his younger brother in the kitchen. But it was those family dinners on the Island that would cement his career path.
“I wanted to recreate that experience,” he says.
Today Gallo does so in the most glamorous of ways as the chef de cuisine at The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges. While this is a new post for Gallo — he’s been at The Inn about 10 months — he has worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, WAG’s March 2014 cover guy, for 28 years.
“I worked for him mostly in the city,” Gallo says. When Jean-Georges was chef de cuisine at Restaurant Lafayette, Gallo — fresh from The Culinary Institute of America and a stint at the legendary La Côte Basque — was one of his line cooks. It was a position he held when Jean-Georges opened Vong in the early 1990s.
At Jean-Georges — the restaurant that Gallo calls the jewel in Jean-Georges’ culinary crown — Gallo served as chef de cuisine and then became the first chef de cuisine at JoJo, a position he held for 13 years (2003-16).
“Last summer, Jean-Georges asked if I’d be interested in coming up to The Inn at Pound Ridge,” Gallo says. He and wife, Kathleen, who works for Financier Patisserie catering, evidently liked what they saw. The Brooklynites now live in Stamford, closer to Gallo’s work.
As chef de cuisine at The Inn, Gallo oversees the kitchen and the application of the Jean-Georges philosophy in a place not far from the revolutionary chef’s home. (Jean-Georges lives in neighboring Waccabuc.) He was one of the first chefs, along with Alice Waters, to take a natural, organic approach to cooking. Certainly, he has galvanized French fare on the East Coast, which had previously relied on heavy cream sauces instead of light, plant-based ones.
“I remember when we were at Restaurant Lafayette and he said we were going to make asparagus juice, and I said, ‘Chef, I don’t think asparagus has any juice,’ and he said, ‘Get me the juicer and the asparagus.’”
It was one of many revelations. Others revolved around leadership, with Jean-Georges leading from the front, not merely directing staffers but working alongside them, yet still knowing when to delegate. While Gallo may consult with Jean-Georges on a new menu, he’s free to run his kitchen. There is a trust and a loyalty between these two men.
“He also taught me that a chef doesn’t just cook,” Gallo says. “A chef has to taste.” And what he’s tasting for is that subtle balance of flavors and textures. Gallo’s achievement of that balancing act was evident in his menu for one of The Inn’s recent Literary Luncheons featuring The New York Times food writer Melissa Clark and her new book, “Dinner: Changing the Game.” (See cover story on Page 68.) The brook trout on a bed of peas — the perfect hommage to spring — was tangy and sweet, crunchy and melting.
Of course, Gallo had us at his creamy, savory truffle pizza, which could induce the kind of reaction Meg Ryan simulated in “When Harry Met Sally.” The secret to great pizza?
“You have to have a feel for the dough,” he says. And a respect for it. “It’s a living, breathing organism, if that’s the right word,” one, he says, that responds to atmospheric conditions like dryness and humidity. So in summer, the dough needs to be by an open window.
Ingredients are important. The Inn uses “top-of-the-line” truffles and New York’s much coveted, much purified water.
Like that water, Gallo is a product of New York City — born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, where he attended private and public schools before going on to The CIA. There he met his wife. With a daughter at the University of California, Davis and a son who graduated from Pace University, the Gallos are empty nesters, so it was a good time for a move, Gallo says. At home, he likes to whip up chicken and fish tacos. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere chez Gallo than the restaurant world. But this is one chef who can stand the heat in the kitchen.
“There’s always a deadline and you have to be ready,” he says. “It’s one of the things that drew me to the business and one of the things that still drives me.”
For more, visit theinnatpoundridge.com.