Well done! Morristown’s Leia Gaccione Sets Up New Season of ‘Top Chef’, Premiering March 3

On Thursday, America will find out which patrons of the south american restaurant + pine in Morristown have known for seven years.

Leia Gaccione is a great leader.

Restaurant owner and self-styled ‘head chef and bottle washer’ is among 15 culinary wizards from across the country competing for $250,000 in Bravo’s Emmy-winning Excellent chef. Season 19, which will premiere at 8 p.m. on March 3, 2022, was taped in Houston last September.

So who won ?

“Nice try slipping that in there!” said Gaccionne, who is as good at a secret as she is at a frying pan.

Video: trailer for season 19 of “Top Chef”:

Judged by panels of celebrity chefs and past winners, contestants were challenged to whip up Nigerian dishes (Houston has the largest Nigerian population in the country) and Texan and Tex-Mex staples, barbecue and fajita cookies.

Competitors whipped up space-appropriate meals for former astronauts and accompanied the head judge Tom Colicchio on a fishing trip in the Gulf. Borrow a page from Top Chef Francehost Padma Lakshmi asked the chefs to prepare two dishes that looked identical but tasted totally different.

Leia Gaccione on Season 19 of Bravo Network’s “Top Chef.”

The elimination rounds tasked them with feeding Houstonians at an Asian night market. For the show’s “Restaurant Wars” segments, contestants picked out what to cook for a full dining room and a judges tasting table.

Excellent chef talent scouts knew what they were doing when they chose Gaccione. She thrives on pressure cooker situations.

“You know how to multi-task…the restaurant industry kind of prepares you for that, because you’re almost always pressed for time. You almost never have enough time to do what you need to do,” says the Passaic native, who honed her skills as an executive chef and chief in five Bobby Flay restaurants before opening south + pine in 2015.

And it didn’t hurt that Gaccione was a seasoned veteran of TV’s cooking wars. In addition to hosting Her name is Chiefa documentary about the obstacles faced by female chefs, she appeared in the Food Network series Defeat Bobby Flay, Iron Chef America, Iron Chef Showdown and Chopped.

Video: “His name is chef” teaser:

While she loved Chopped “Wacky Ingredients” Challenge make a dish, say, from “a basket of lutefisk casserole and noodles with tuna and pickle-flavored jelly beans” – she relished what she considers the even greater challenge of have free rein Excellent leader.

“It leaves so much room for the possible. And you really have to be able to edit yourself to create something targeted,” says Gaccione, 38.

One would expect fierce rivalries between people who make their living with sharp knives. But Gaccione says his fellow top chefs were supportive. It reinforced a lesson she had learned in the anxious early days of south + pine.

Leia Gaccione, a Top Chef in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Two more restaurants opened a year after we opened, and I was afraid they would take my business away from me,” she recalls.

“And then little by little you see everyone is going to try the new restaurants and then everything stabilizes and the business is still there. And I think we’re not in competition with each other. We are all here and all unique and there is room for all of us.

“And I think it’s the same when it comes to a cooking competition. You just have to tell yourself there has to be a winner, there has to be a loser. This is a TV show. And that’s just what it is. That’s how it all goes,” says Gaccione.

Video: Meet the contestants of “Top Chef”, season 19:

She sees our planet as two tribes: people who live to eat and people who eat to live. She is squarely in the convivial camp – to the detriment, she admits, of her social life.

“That’s about all I want to talk about. Like, where did you go to eat? What is your favorite restaurant? Do you cook at home? said Gaccione, who is divorced and lives in Morristown with Luna, her 9-year-old pet Puggle.

While she enjoys eating out at places like Eleven Madison Park in New York, Gaccione is equally happy with a tasty bowl of Pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, or a delicious no-frills roast chicken, like this one. which she recently tasted at the Zuni Café. in San Francisco.

“I think masterpieces can really be simple,” she says.

BROKEN BONES AND GOOD KARMA HELP

Gaccione and his younger brother Gary did not taste fine dining when they were children in Passaic.

Their father left when they were little. Their mother, Maureen, better known as Moe, held several jobs to support them.

Moe made sure they ate their vegetables. Upstairs with their grandfather, son of Irish immigrants, the menu was strictly meat and potatoes.

But grandfather also liked to watch iron boss, and Gaccione too. She loved Julia Child, the Frugal Gourmet and Yan knows how to cook, too. Gaccione graduated from the New York Restaurant School in 2001.

Her luck came when she was working at a place in Montclair. His boss knew someone at a Bobby Flay restaurant and asked Gaccione to spend a few days there to glean tips for success.

She will work for Flay for seven years. At 31, she takes the plunge and opens south + pine in Morristown, next to the Mayo Performing Arts Center.

A friend showed him the space. The patio seduced her immediately. The city too.

Expanded outdoor dining has returned to South + Pine during the partial reopening of businesses in Morristown, June 15, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I love having a business here. I like living here. I love walking around town and having a cup of coffee at SmartWorld or Lokl Cafe, and I see people on the street that I have become friends with over the years, and it really feels good to be a part of them community.”

When she moved here in 2018, she opened the Central + main American restaurant in Madison.

This one fell victim to the pandemic, and an owner with other plans for the building, says Gaccione. The Federal Paycheck Protection Program, her hard work and ingenuity helped her keep south + pine afloat during the coronavirus crisis.

Leia Gaccione, owner of South+Pine, at Taste of Morristown 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Leia Gaccione, owner of south+pine, at Taste of Morristown 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Responding to the long lines and empty grocery store shelves during the first lockdowns, she created a convenience store at restaurant. Leveraging her vendor relationships, she sold rare products, toilet paper and other items to grateful customers.

Gaccione has also partnered with a yoga studio. The studio held classes on the restaurant’s South Street patio, and she gave classes take-out brunches.

She donated meals to hospital workers and a nursing home. She launched “Mondays in Music”, encouraging customers and pedestrians with local artists on the terrace. And she started a project that became Closed until further noticea documentary on the resiliency of small businesses in Morristown.

“I’m a big believer in ‘you give and you get’, you know? So it’s like, good karma. And you put that out into the universe, and you help people, and they help you.

If she wins the Top Chef award (Come on, Leia, we won’t tell anyone!), she plans to move from apartment living to home ownership, working a little less and traveling a little more.

Still, all of that – pardon the pun – is gravy.

While snowmobiling in upstate New York nine years ago, she soared off an eight-foot cliff at 45 mph.

“It’s actually like some kind of miracle that I’m alive and even able to walk because of the severity of the accident. It’s quite amazing that I’m not paralyzed or dead,” says Gaccione.

LEIA AND LUNA: Leia Gaccione and her pet puggle, February 25, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

She credits Luna, a puppy at the time, with seeing her through that dark time.

“She pretty much gave me a reason to wake up every day.”

Now the two are living the dream.

“I was really lucky. I feel like the stars are kind of aligned for me and it’s pretty amazing and it’s pretty amazing,” says Gaccione, who is happiest on Saturdays busy evenings south + pine.

Supervising the cooks and her recipes, mentoring the reception hall staff and welcoming the guests, “I’m like the circus chef”, she says with a smile.

The feeling even goes beyond reality TV for this great chef.

“Sometimes I think to myself, is this my life? It’s really crazy that what you dreamed of as a child can come true. So I strongly believe in bringing your thoughts to fruition.

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