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By the Way: Chef returns to his roots

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It’s a wonderful tale of a hometown boy who’s made good – in a business as competitive as they come – and he’s bringing the goodies home with him.

Francesco Martorella, executive chef at the new Durham Springs, is cooking up a world of experience, style and taste for Durham’s new culinary event center and breathing life into a new-old Cascade, the restaurant.

He’s an award-winning chef who has starred in some of America’s finest restaurants, Rive Gauche in Washington, Four Seasons and Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia. He was chef and owner of Ciboulette and Bliss, also in the city. Both earned the coveted Best New Restaurant designation awarded by Esquire. He’s also taught the art of preparing fine cuisine.

Francesco knows what he’s doing – and that’s probably why he sat calmly for an interview with chaos washing around him as contractors raced to complete construction at the 33-acre rural complex, and giant gravel trucks rumbled away as they poured a new driveway outside.

“I was trained in classical cooking but I’ve moved to more modern techniques. I really love the actual cooking,” he said. “I’m from an Italian family and food has always been an important part of my life.”

Although cooking is his first love, he’s got a mighty job to do as he gets ready for Cascade’s opening. He’s in charge of and helped design the center’s two kitchens, the a la carte one, for the restaurant, and the larger banquet kitchen.

He’s creating the Cascade menu, which will include such exotic dishes as octopus. He’s been scheduling wine tastings – red one day, white another – to find the best purveyor. He’s hiring staff. He’s training them. “The service business is very detailed. You have to put yourself in the diner’s place.” he explained.

Matorello said he will be buying as much as possible from local merchants and farmers, and Cascade will be baking its own bread. That’s just the beginning.

Francesco grew up in Bensalem and the Ottsville area where his late father once owned Frank’s Tavern, now Tohickon Tavern. His father, who had emigrated from Italy with only $15 in his pocket, had also been a chef in Philadelphia before he bought the tavern. Francesco frequently spent summers in Italy with family and he speaks both Italian and French.

A single dad, he now lives in East Norriton and has two adult daughters, both of whom are studying medicine.

Francesco went to Upper Bucks vo-tech and graduated from Palisades High School in 1975. “A lot of my friends and classmates worked at the old Cascade Lodge,” he said. “A couple have dropped in to see me. I couldn’t wait to get out of here, and now I’m happy to be back.” He went directly from Palisades to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and even was hired there after graduation before he took his first restaurant job.

That was at La Chantilly in Manhattan. He confessed, “My first day on the job, I was chopping mushrooms and the chef came by, threw them on the floor and told me to learn to chop them all the same size.

“That’s the old-style chef. It’s a different generation now. I stay calm. I want things to run smoothly. I don’t scream at people. I like us to work together. I like to hire smart, young people. I find them energetic and really wanting to learn.”

Owners of Durham Springs and Cascade are Dan Fehlig and Ian Humphreys. Francesco said, “The thing I like about Dan is that he goes all out and he and Ian gave me free rein. I’m not comfortable with someone looking over my shoulder all the time.”

Eventually, the chef would like to start his own garden at Durham Springs – a big one. “The best chef-owned European restaurants have their own gardens,” he said, “and I really love vegetables.”

No date has been set for an opening yet, but hours for Cascade will be from Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for brunch.

Durham Springs is situated at 5065 Lehnenberg Road in Durham Township.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net


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