Tito Onofre has held the position of Executive Chef at Jonathan’s Ristorante, a charming eatery on Wall Street in Huntington, for 14 years. With owner Roberto Ornato at the helm and a very capable kitchen staff of six, Onofre confidently states, “Restaurants may come and go, but we are still here.”
Chef Onofre’s Northern Italian cuisine is highlighted by his attention to detail. “We work with the best ingredients. Roberto and I decided that even when the economy went down, we would not fool around with quality. Rosemary, fresh fish and good balsamic vinegar, San Giuliano extra virgin olive oil from Sardinia and burrata cheese, imported weekly from Italy, are must haves. One ingredient I could not cook without is San Marzano imported tomatoes.” Onofre’s affinity for Italian cuisine may be in his ancestry: The first San Marzano seed was a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to Campania, Italy in 1770.
From his early years in Lima, Peru, Onofre enjoyed great food served well. “Mom and Dad held large, elegant dinner parties. It was a beautiful feast of food. Her fish stuffed with chorizo and served with a sauce made of aji amarillo, a Peruvian spicy yellow pepper, was a treat. Mom’s cooking inspired me,” he reminisced.
Onofre’s formal training began at Cenfotur—Center of Administration and Tourism in Lima. Eventually, he moved to Miami and trained at Florida Culinary Institute (now Lincoln Culinary Institute) in West Palm Beach. He then served as Executive Chef at world-renowned Restaurante Vivaldi in Lima. Later, he worked for the Lane Company at Bang in Miami, then Boom in Soho and Boom Bistro in Bridgehampton.
Tito lives locally with his wife Nora and children, Stephano, 9, and Ashley, 14, who are his biggest fans. “When Nora and I get to dine out, I like to try something different… At least twice a year, Roberto [Ornato] and I venture out to try different cuisine and wines.”
“I am passionate about food. I love to eat and always did. To cook well, one must appreciate the way food tastes.” Onofre’s enjoyment is obvious when he serves people. Whether it is Tom Schaudel at the bar, Billy Joel in the dining room or a table of newcomers, his enthusiasm is the same.
“One of the best things a customer ever said was, ‘You are such a good cook that I should marry you!’” The chef’s most unusual request was from a gentleman who had just returned from Italy with a very expensive white truffle. The man asked for a five-course dinner for three, with a piece of the rare delicacy in each course. “I created each dish around the truffle and he was ecstatic,” Onofre recalled.
Signature Dish: Trofia Pasta with Manila Clams in Pesto.
“This was first created by Roberto Ornato’s mom, who came from Genoa. We use trofia, a handmade pasta rolled into little stick-sized pieces. Mrs. Ornato used trenette, more like a linguini, but the rest of this Genovese recipe is the same. Mrs. Ornato often came into the restaurant to give us cooking tips. We honor her memory each time we serve it.”
Trofie Pasta with Manila Clams in Pesto (Serves Four)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup water
2lbs Manila clams
½ cup white wine
1 cup basil
1 cup plain parsley
3 tbsp. pine nuts
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano
2 garlic cloves
20 pieces French string beans cut in 3 pieces each
2 medium Idaho potatoes diced small
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour the flour onto a work surface and create a well in the center. Add the water, little by little until the dough is elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it sit for 45 minutes before working with it.
After it sits, cut small pieces of dough (bean-sized) and roll them into thin strips between your hands to make the trofie.
Wash the clams, transfer them to a hot pot, add the wine and cover them until they open.
In a food processor, add the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
In salted water, cook the potatoes and French string beans. Set aside. Then cook the trofie as you would any other fresh pasta.
When the clams are ready, combine with potatoes, French string beans, pasta and pesto. Serve immediately.