When Empire Outlets held its grand opening on May 15, welcoming dozens of local dignitaries and thousands of eager shoppers and gawkers, Chef Peter Botros whipped up a couple of gourmet appetizers for the event’s estimated 11,000 guests.
“It definitely was a challenge,” the talented chef noted, describing the detailed process involved in prepping his gastronomic masterpieces outside of a kitchen environment. “We prepped for weeks and then spent days lugging our setup there in the pouring rain. It was difficult working outside of my usual surroundings, especially doing an event on such a massive scale. I’m physically exhausted right now, but I think it was worth it.”
Worth it indeed. Local foodies are still talking about his lobster corndog cupcakes (which were topped with a dollop of shallot-tarragon whipped cream) and the Asian filet mignon skewers that were dipped in a black garlic puree and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and chives. There was wild mushroom ravioli in a sherry cream sauce too and a shrimp cocktail topped with a sort of strawberry/peach bruschetta.
All signature dishes from the chef’s impressive cookbook.
“I love playing with different ingredients and techniques, watching the way certain foods and flavors react,” Botros noted. “I like taking very traditional dishes and putting my very own spin on it.”
And it’s that “spin” that has much of New York City talking about the culinary empire Botros has been quietly building here on Staten Island for the past five years. A mortgage banker by trade, with a master’s degree in marketing and finance, Botros says his love of culinary arts was born when he started working in the food services industry as a teenager. He worked on the front end as a busboy, waiter and manager, constantly sneaking into the kitchen to get a view of the action. He read everything he could about culinary technique and watched countless hours of Food Network shows at home.
When the strictly self-taught chef took at leap of faith in 2014 and opened The Stone House, shifting gears from mortgages to meatballs, he devised an impressive menu by simply reinventing some very traditional recipes.
“I cooked the foods I wanted to eat; things I would like to see on a menu when I was dining out,” Botros said.
After two years of cooking the classics – think wedge salad, rack of lamb, roasted chicken and mashed potatoes – Botros took yet another risk and opened The Chef’s Loft, a restaurant within a restaurant that is open just once a week and features a five-course gourmet tasting menu.
“The entire reason why Chef’s Loft was born was so that I could present something different, something entirely outside of the box,” Botros said about the lofty 16-seater dining space that overlooks the main dining room at The Stone House. “Being that The Stone House is a large restaurant, a mainstream dining experience where guests come to host luncheons, dinners and other family affairs, we try to keep things as traditional as possible. Yes, there’s some twists on our dishes there but we make it so that it’s still approachable for everyone in our demographic. But Chef’s Loft is an entirely different story. Chef’s Loft allows me to play.”
The smallish dining space is only open on Saturday evenings and the menu changes monthly. The meal is priced at about $125 per person and each course features a wine pairing selected by the restaurant’s sommelier. June’s offerings include Pork Meatloaf Lollipops with apple, bacon and charred hot honey; a Lobster Mac-N-Cheese Lasagna with butter poached lobster, cheddar mornay and crispy cheddar tulles; and a Smoked Beef Short Rib smothered in bourbon-mustard BBQ and served with jalapeno whipped sweet potatoes. Dessert includes an “adult” cookies and milk: A petite assorted cookie jar is served beside a Bailey’s spiked chocolate milk.
But Botros’s culinary skills run deeper than crystallized cilantro doused with Meyer Lemon Jam and Basil Sorbet topped with Balsamic Cotton Candy. He has added four more restaurants to his portfolio since 2017 and currently has two more projects in the works. And each eatery is more successful than the next, earning Botros some serious culinary street cred for bringing scores of inquisitive diners to our borough.
“We get a lot of guests from Brooklyn, Jersey and Manhattan,” Botros said, citing a couple of magazine articles and a February cooking stint at the James Beard House as part of the lure. “It’s wonderful to attract that kind of attention with these dishes because I put so much of my heart and soul into each and every one.”
At Violette’s Cellar in Grant City, Botros concentrates on “social dining,” offering a range of small plates for guests to share. Popular dishes include the 35-day dry-aged Tomahawk Ribeye, served with a trio of dipping sauces; Chicken Pot Pie Empanadas, filled with pulled chicken, roasted vegetables and an herb cream sauce; and the Smoked Mac and Cheese that is made with a smoked gouda béchamel and topped with Ritz pretzel crumbs.
Cornerhouse BBQ and Cornerhouse Express, also Grant City, feature a focus on southern barbecue – beef brisket, gourmet burgers and craft beer is the star here.
And at Sofia’s Taqueria, which opened in January in Rosebank, secret guacamole and tacos are served with over 100 different types of tequila.
“Sally’s Southern will open on Forest Avenue sometime in the later summer/early fall,” the 33-year-old chef said of his next venture. “And we’re in the midst of developing a massive restaurant/gourmet market across a 28,000 square foot chunk of space at Lighthouse Point.”
All diverse culinary concepts that allow Botros to experiment in a variety of cooking styles.
“I love the diversity that all of these different genres of food offer,” Botros concluded. “I never want to repeat the same model. I always want to deliver fresh ideas and truly delicious food.”