What are the ingredients that make Hell’s Kitchen such a tasty dish for Chef Christopher Motta? “Its style… character… the history… and the food and all the bars are a huge plus!” he says. Christopher shares his West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Raised in Brewster, NY and moved to the city in 2009. I attended the Institute Of Culinary Education (ICE). After that, I had the privilege of honing my craft in the kitchen at Applewood in Park Slope. It was a farm-to-table, nose-to-tail concept where celebrities dined regularly. Mystery boxes of food would arrive from local farms and we chefs would barter with each other for ingredients. We would write a new menu every single day.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
I decided to move to Hell’s Kitchen after living in Park Slope for nearly 10 years. My first executive chef job brought me to the heart of the city — and I just couldn’t stay away. It was new, exciting, and the city felt like it truly never slept. And it was SO not Brooklyn.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
I love Hell’s Kitchen because of its style. There’s an evolution from poor working-class heroes, to the Irish mob, to Restaurant Row being a playground for Broadway’s finest. It has one thing undeniably — character — and I love to live in neighborhoods with great character. You can almost feel the history just by walking around. Oh yeah, and the food and all the bars are a huge plus!
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
Mainly stayed put. However, in the summer I was lucky to escape to North Port on Long Island where friends of mine have a fantastic home and a beautiful pool.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I was the Executive Chef of Lillie’s Victorian Establishment. I am currently unemployed.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I’ve learned how much we took for granted every day.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
I found out that when my mom attended Juilliard for ballet, she lived a few blocks from where I live now. I didn’t know that until I moved here.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
I was featured on ABC for the royal wedding. I did a demo on how to make Beef Wellington and created an elderflower buttercream lavender cake.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of celebrities over the years. Highlight was having a cold one with The Boss, Bruce Springsteen — but also a shout out to Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, David Byrne, Joe Morton, and Kate Hudson.
What’s your superpower?
The gift of the gab. I’m known as a “charmer”.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
“This is My Life” by Shirley Bassey.
Which people inspire you the most?
Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Sinatra, Martin Scorsese, Leo DiCaprio, Wolfgang Puck, Michael Keaton, Heath Ledger, Pollock and Dali.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Even when my chips are low, there’s still some left for giving” — Frank Sinatra.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I was fascinated with Times Square as a child. I would visit when my dad would bring me to the Ranger’s game. I knew I would be a part of it one day.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
I’d like to have a drink with Mickey Featherstone from the Westies.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Please vote for me on Favorite Chef. I’m currently leading my group, but every vote counts! You can follow me on Instagram @chefchristopha — and if you need a chef, I’m looking for work!
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
Beer Culture (W45th Street between 8/9th Ave). They have the largest selection of craft beer in coolers on the walls as well as on tap — but you go for the people you meet. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve made there. Ask for Rob Brown. They serve whiskey and beer, nothing else — cocktail heads need not apply!
Clinton Community Garden (W48th Street between 9/10th Ave). It’s like a little secret slice of heaven — magical and quiet and serene. Something about it seems too good to be true. You don’t often find places like this in New York City.
Hudson River Park. I run there and love going for a picnic with friends or by myself. I find it therapeutic there.
Medi (9th Avenue between W53/54th St) At this romantic, dimly lit hideaway you can enjoy amazing freshly prepared dishes such as the seafood casserole — which does not sound great but is “more of a paella, sans rice, sub tomato couscous, with the bounty of the sea served over top,” in my Stefon from SNL voice.
International Grocery (9th Avenue between W40/41st St). It has an old-world charm, bins of fresh spices and grains, preserved Meyer lemons, olives, fresh baklava, dolmas, and coffee. Try the Greek feta, it makes a great salad!
Delphinium Home (W47th Street between 8/9th Ave). It’s one of my favorite places to go and browse. They have wonderful gift ideas, beautiful candles and a huge variety of funny greeting cards.
Ippudo Westside (W51st Street between 8/9th Ave). I love that this ramen place has an open kitchen. Get the spicy pork broth — it’s to die for, with the pork steamed bun as an appetizer. The broth can cure almost anything.
El Rancho Burritos (W45th St and 9th Avenue). It has amazing, authentic Mexican cooking done well. The burritos are the thing here, and for under 11 bucks you can’t go wrong. Each burrito is served with rice and beans of your choice. My favorite one is the Jalisco.