Listening to Chef Michael Mastrianni, you'd come to two conclusions very quickly: he doesn't like to sit still and he is not one with whom to be trifled.
Mastrianni isn't what you would call culinary haute couture. Think more Hell's Kitchen sans the accent. Mastrianni is a self-described monk in his art. A monk who swears and makes one hell of a plantain-encrusted crab cake. His attitude waxes the confidence of an individual who is fully aware of just how talented he has trained himself to be.
He started out like all the rest, scraping food from dishes and squeezing soapy sponges in a restaurant kitchen at 15 years of age. He graduated from West Haven High is 1986 and moved on to schools in Boston and Tampa.
"I was always pretty good at it," a matter-of-fact statement Mastrianni recalls. It was biology and chemistry that interested him in school, not culinary pursuits. "But that's pretty much my job. Mixing sweets...chemicals."
Mastrianni cooked at Paul Newman's Playhouse, in Westport, Greenwich and New Haven. An ad in the New York Times led him all the way to a position in San Juan where he developed his Asian-Caribbean fusion style of cooking. Serving the Clinton's, the Kennedy's, Harrison Ford and Arthur Miller are also among the notable mentions on Mastrianni's list.
Mastrianni says his experience in San Juan wasn't just a job. "You have to immerse yourself in their culture, learn about their food, learn about their culture."
After two years, Mastrianni bid farewell to Puerto Rico and found himself back home in Connecticut. He is now in his third season at .
Mastrianni's philosophy is that life is ever-changing and his only plan is to live and be happy. He moves, he cooks, he teaches, he moves, the cycles starts again. He teaches, but only to those who are willing to truly learn.
"If the person is receptive and respectful...if not, they won't evolve or learn anything from me on purpose."
Rocky's, which encompasses up to 70 hours of his life in a five-day week, is staffed primarily by women.
"My staff is very good, we all work together," says Mastrianni, "but it's not a democracy in the kitchen," he laughs.
Mastrianni is on the line cooking with everyone else and no dish reaches a customer without his approval. With the quality bar being sky high, Mastrianni is adamant about establishing a standard practice in his kitchen. For instance, he stresses that adding flour and gluten in lieu of 'reducing' is not allowed; anything out of a can - out of the question.
If you find yourself in Rocky's, Mastrianni suggests requesting the fourteen spice salmon with tropical fruit and a soy lime glaze. Hungry yet? You could also go for the lobster bisque with nearly three days worth of work going into its preparation.
Among his many talents, Mastrianni is also Dad to two daughters, ages 22 and 12, and a grandson. He met his wife of thirteen years at Jeffrey's Restaurant in Milford where he cooked and she worked as a bartender.