The Pursuit of Hospitality: ICE Alum Tony Trincanello
Some of us are just born with the industry in our blood. Tony Trincanello started off as a busboy at 16, and by age 20 was already staging at a winery in Veneto, Italy. After graduating from ICE and externing at the legendary Le Cirque, Tony launched a successful catering company, worked as a wine consultant and eventually became the Food & Beverage Director at Santa Monica's Huntley Hotel. His latest venture, The Roost at LA Farm revitalizes one of the region's classic culinary landmarks.
What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?
Before enrolling at ICE, I had already been in the service industry for some time. I started out as a busboy at 16 in my uncle's restaurant, and by age 20 had my first stage in Italy at a winery in Veneto, working in the vineyards and the restaurant. That was really when the bug bit me. Upon returning, I moved to New York City and started working as a bartender and server in some notable restaurants, while also staging in the kitchen to learn and get a feel for it. I just knew early on that I wanted to know about every side of the business.
Where was your externship, and how did it impact your career?
My externship was at Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo. I had known the Maccione brothers for a while and knew I could learn a great deal just by being around them (and Sirio!) in their element.
What have you been up to since graduating?
Immediately after graduating, I started a catering company out of my apartment which became pretty successful. We were doing multiple events each week, from small dinner parties to weddings for 300! After a time, I was no longer seeing eye-to-eye with my business partner, so I decided to see how the “other half lived.” I was hired as a wine consultant for a small, French, family-owned import company. I learned a great deal there, but I longed to be back in the action of day-to-day restaurant operations I moved to Los Angeles as part of the opening management team for Craft, which is where I met my current partner, Chef Johnny Keenan. I left Craft after about a year and a half to open the acclaimed, if short-lived, Cache with Chefs Josiah Citrin and Nyesha Arrington. After Cache closed, I took a job as the Food & Beverage Director of The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica. That’s when Johnny and I reconnected and started looking for opportunities of our own, which led to The Roost at La Farm.
Are there any accomplishments, awards, etc. of which you are particularly proud?
My proudest accomplishment is, first and foremost, my daughter, Madelena, who just turned one. But professionally, it would be my certification as a Level 3 advanced sommelier.
Take us through a typical day in your working life.
A typical day begins at about 5:30 am with a quick surf session (I did move out here to live on the beach!) or a trip to the gym. Then I'll play with my daughter for a bit and head to the restaurant around 10. There, I'll meet with Chef Johnny, go over the menu changes for the day, reservations, events, check on staffing, then execute a busy lunch service. At lunch service, I'm on the floor almost the entire time, making sure tables are bussed and food is served efficiently. Then I try to sit for quick lunch with Chef and our other partner Laura—but I often get interrupted by someone trying to sell me a new bottle of wine! Then, before the dinner service, we go over menu changes, service notes and I’ll usually open up a bottle for the staff to taste and discuss.
Dinner starts with a pretty busy happy hour in the bar/lounge, so I’ll usually get behind the bar to help out and try out some new cocktails or wines on our guests. Then I’m back to working the floor, talking to guests, selling wine and helping out wherever I’m needed. (I usually just describe my job as a glorified busser!) But, in truth, even when I’m helping bus, it’s because that’s a more natural way to interact with guests, rather than bouncing from table to table asking the hollow question “How is everything”? Then I sit down for dinner around 10, finish the bottle we opened before our dinner shift and head home around midnight. They’re long days, but this is the life I’ve chosen.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I hope the future brings our restaurants to a point where they are running perfectly, even when the chef and I aren't present. That way we can sneak out for a round of golf once in a while.
How would you describe your “culinary voice”? Our culinary philosophy is to always keep it fresh. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we do want to be able to introduce a new ingredient or wine—whether it's something our guests have never had or an old classic that they should try! But most important is welcoming everyone as if they're visiting us in our home. I always tell my staff that we are hosting 50 different dinner parties for our friends every night.
Click here to learn more about ICE's Culinary Management program.