Chef Stephen Gallagher has taken the less traveled route on his path to a career in the kitchen and how later owner of the rustic Italian kitchen The Trattoria in St. James.
Gallagher, 43, recalls collecting shopping carts in the parking lot of a King Kullen supermarket. “It was cold outside and someone quit the bakery and asked me if I would like to work inside and I said clearly,” he says, adding that it is good to only work inside even though he does not bake.
However, baking would not be in his future.
Gallagher says a friend told him about a restaurant in Stony B.Rook, The Country House looking for a cook. “I just showed up there and got hired, ”he says, recalling that in his first job he learned a lot of different aspects of cooking. “I realized that I have a natural gift for cooking.”
And while Gallagher attended a formal cooking school at NYIT, he’s not a fan of would-be chefs who make it a priority.
“I advise young chefs not to take the culinary school path, because all in all you learn everything you need to know about cooking in a restaurant and not necessarily in a classroom,” he explains. Gallagher says the main reason he advises against going to cookery school is because of its high cost.
Prior to purchasing the trattoria in 2013 from owner Eric Lomondo, Gallagher had formative cooking experiences at several local LI restaurants, including Star Boggs in Westhampton and The Jamesport Manor Inn.
He also spent some time in the US Virgin Islands, when C.hef de C.uisine at The Buccaneer Terrace Restaurant on St. Croix before moving to Colorado to work under Chef Bertrand Bouquin at The Summit Restaurant at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
“The Broadmoor Hotel had a very upscale restaurant,” recalls Gallagher after seeing both former Vice President Dick Cheney and motivational speaker Tony Robbins there.
In 2009, Gallagher was working for Chef Eric Lomondo in his family’s restaurants, which include the Orto in Miller Place.
He started as Head Chef at Kitchen a Bistro before becoming Head Chef at Kitchen a Trattoria. In November 2013, Gallagher bought the restaurant from Lomondo and renamed it The Trattoria.
Gallagher explains that one of the biggest challenges in owning the trattoria is the steep learning curve from head chef to owner of the house.
“I thought I knew everything about gastronomy, but there was a lot to learn. In this first year it was a real challenge to find my way around and to find out how to go on. “
He also credits his friend Lomondo for giving him a lot–needed support during this time. “Going from co-worker to owner is a huge difference and Eric has helped me a lot,” he says.
When Covid struck, Gallagher said he had cut his open days from 7 to 5 and had to lie down first multiple workers out while panning to handle take-away only. “Unfortunately, the take-away business wasn’t really enough to cover my expenses, so I had to take a blow financially.”
But he says the St. James Ward “is a great place to do business” because the resident are so supportive and add that people show several times on a Week for dinner.
Gallagher adds that he continues to find out and that it helps to be a small business; his 28-seat restaurant has a low overhead.
When asked about current business, he says he’s “just back” to where he was before the pandemic.
But staff shortages and high prices also affect day-to-day operations.
“I don’t even get a dishwasher … and I also offer good money.”
“I don’t know that people still want to do that,” says Gallagher, referring to employees in the catering industry.
He also says that food prices are “going through the roof, everything is absurd. Imported food is particularly high due to import duties. ”
But despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, Gallagher’s expertly prepared cuisine not only continues to attract, but also continues to fill TThe trattoria is fully occupied every night.
As an extremely practical owner, Gallagher makes it a point of stepping out from behind the open kitchen, greeting its customers personally and asking each guest how everything is.
Red wine is one of the highly rated specialties brasato (braised beef) with creamy polenta, black pasta with calamari and spicy tomato, pork loin with farro, lasagne Bolognese and Montauk fluke with vegetables.
For dessert, everything is homemade and includes a flour-free chocolate and almond cake with vanilla gelato and Nutella pound cake, also served with vanilla gelato.
Although cocktails are not served, a full wine list is available.
When asked about plans for the trattoria, Gallagher simply says, “I’m just working to keep everything going.”
532 N Country Road, St. James. She can be reached at 631-584-3518. Visit at thetrattoriarestaurant.com. Cash only, reservation required.
For more information on food and beverages, see longislandpress.com/category/food-drink.
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