Former NYC chef to direct Conimicut Village clambake       

Warwick Beacon Online

Written by RUSSELL J. MOORE.    

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 


The Conimicut Village Association’s first annual clambake will be in good hands as Bryan Tortorella, a former executive chef at expensive restaurants in New York City, will be in charge.


The event takes place Saturday, Sept. 8, at Conimicut Point Park (the rain date is Sunday, Sept. 9) and will follow the old-fashioned New England clambake tradition.


Association members will dig a pit in the sand and place wood and granite stones at the bottom. The wood will be set on fire, which heats the rocks. Layers of seaweed will be placed upon the stones, and the food – lobsters, clams and other seafood – will be placed on top of the seaweed, covered by canvas. The heat from the rocks will then cook the food.


A ticket for the seafood portion of the clambake, including a lobster, costs $35. Those who don’t care for seafood, few and far between in Rhode Island, can purchase a sirloin steak for $25. Children under the age of 14 will be served hamburgers and hot dogs, and charged $5.


Everyone at the clambake will be served chowder, corn on the cob, watermelon, a dessert and a beverage.


All proceeds go toward the Conimicut Village Association, which works to improve the neighborhood and surrounding area.


Entertainment for the event will feature volleyball, horseshoes and a variety of children’s activities as well as live music.


Save The Bay and the Buckeye Brook Association are also involved in the event.


Tortorella, chairman of the food preparation committee, said, perhaps somewhat optimistically, that he’d like to see the event grow to the size of the Charlestown Seafood Festival, which also takes place on a yearly basis in the summer.


Tortorella said fundraising events like the clambake can do a lot to increase the neighborhood’s infrastructure, like its playgrounds, which he views as dismal.


“They don’t have enough good stuff for the kids around here, and we’ve got at least 12 kids on my block alone,” said Tortorella.


Tortorella isn’t a Rhode Islander, but he sounds like one. He grew up in New Jersey’s Benton County, made famous by the smash hit HBO television series “The Sopranos,” which explains his similar accent.


Benton County, assuming the traffic isn’t bad, is only about a 15-minute car ride from the Manhattan section of New York City.


Tortorella learned about cooking at a young age from his Italian grandmother. He always wanted to work with his hands, he said.


Though he lacks any formal education, he’s led the kitchens of some of New York City’s most chic restaurants, such as Ruby Foo’s, a high-class Asian restaurant located at Times Square and on Broadway, and Isabella’s, a Mediterranean-style restaurant known for its Sunday brunch.


Tortorella said he used an old-fashioned concept to move up the ranks in the kitchen: hard work.


“I sure wasn’t one of those kids who spent a lot of money on a degree from somewhere like Johnson & Wales and came out thinking I was going to make $100,000 a year right away,” said Tortorella. “I enrolled in the school of hard knocks. I started as a dishwasher at 18 and just worked my way up.”


And work he did. At times, he said, working seven nights a week and every holiday one can think of made him feel as if he didn’t have a life. But as most successful people will attest, hard work always pays off.


Within a few years he was an executive chef at premier restaurants. The executive chef is the highest-ranking full-time chef at the restaurant. The position is largely a management role, which oversees the whole kitchen. No entrée leaves the kitchen without the executive chef’s approval.


The executive chef answers to the restaurant manager, and if the restaurant is a part of corporate chain, the corporate chef, who is oversees numerous restaurants.


“You were pretty much married to the restaurant,” said Tortorella.


Tortorella, for the most part, enjoyed city life. He met some big-name celebrities such as supermodel Cindy Crawford, classic rock legends The Allman Brothers, and members of the hit rock band The Black Crowes.


But for him, as for many others, Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything.


“September 11, 2001, was a turning point for me. It brought me up here,” he said. “I was pretty much all set with the city life after that. I wanted to just get away to somewhere smaller.”


Enter Rhode Island.


“I got a call from Kevin Gundreau [now the executive chef at Ruth’s Chris in Providence], who had already moved from the city to Rhode Island, who had a job opening for me, and I decided to go with it,” he said.


After working a number of chef jobs in South County and in Providence, he met his wife and settled down. Shortly after having their first child, he got out of the business and they moved to the Conimicut section in Warwick. They’ve lived there for almost two years.


“It’s a nice quiet neighborhood that’s close to the water. It’s affordable. We found a great local spot,” he said.


Though he’s no longer in the food business full time (he does food sales for Sysco, a supplier), he still does catering part time.


He looks at the clambake as a great way to give back to his newfound community with his newfound friends.


“It’s a perfect fit. The association needed help and I said, ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever you folks want,’” he said.


Tickets are available by calling 737-5559 or at West Shore Carpet and Blinds at


752 West Shore Rd.

and the Warwick Beacon at

1944 Warwick Ave.