By Maureen Werther
For somebody who thought he wanted to grow up to become a state trooper, the culinary talents of Michael Mastrantuono, executive chef at 15 Church restaurant in Saratoga Springs, are so hot, they could almost be against the law.
Mastrantuono joined the team at 15 Church in July, taking the place of Brady Duhame. He worked long hours throughout the track season. As it turned out, the 2017 track season was 15 Church’s busiest and most successful yet.
Only 27 years old, the Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) culinary school grad has rapidly been making a name for himself in the region, creating culinary magic at Indulge, MezzaNotte and Roux before arriving on the Saratoga scene. He was named one of Full Service Restaurant News magazine’s “40 Under 40 Restaurant Stars on the Rise” earlier this year.
Michael is a native of upstate New York. He grew up in the small town of Greenville, surrounded by the tastes, smells, sights and sounds of Sophie’s, the family restaurant owned and operated by his father.
“I started working as a line cook in my father’s kitchen when I was nine, and I used to stand on milk crates to reach the prep table. While other kids were out playing baseball, I was learning how to make tortellini,” he said.
Mastrantuono continued to work in his father’s restaurant throughout school. At 17, he was getting ready to graduate from high school the following year and become a trooper when his father’s chef was fired and there was no one who had the skills to take over.
“I told my dad that I could do it and I convinced him to let me give it a try,” he said. “That’s when I realized how much I loved it. I started getting creative and trying new dishes of my own.”
When he turned 18, Mastrantuono enrolled in the culinary program at SCCC.
Mastrantuono admits that he had big shoes to fill in taking over the helm at 15 Church.
He calls himself a different kind of chef. He is always studying, trying new things, watching for new trends. He likes to think and plan strategically.
“I have tons of notebooks where I keep recipes and notes on what works and what doesn’t. When I perfect a dish, I pick a new challenge.”
Most chefs say that it is difficult to work with another chef’s menu. The plan for this summer was to stay with the existing menu and transition to Mastrantuono’s own menu once the busy track season subsided.
He expects to unveil 15 Church’s new concept by Oct. 15.
Mastrantuono said this region has the best farms in the nation and it’s nothing for him to drive to Kinderhook’s Lover’s Leap Farm for the best pork, or other locations for the freshest vegetables.
“I adapt my menu to what I have. People may not realize that ingredients can and do change on a daily basis. One day I may have garlic that’s very strong. And the next day, it could be much weaker. That’s going to influence the dish. That is one of the challenges of using local ingredients,” he said.
“15 Church is known for using the best ingredients and for the extraordinary service. You can’t have a great restaurant with one and not the other. [Owners Paul McCullough and Susan Diep] and the team all do their part. And I do mine. We have the best of both worlds. That’s what we do. And that is what’s going to continue to make this a great restaurant.”
To find out Mastrantuono’s “go to” meal at home go to his recipe here.
For more about 15 Church visit www.15churchrestaurant.com