Chef Frank Fronda
A first-generation Italian- American who grew up in Brooklyn, Frank Fronda now finds himself on the West Coast cooking an innovative global cuisine inspired by his travels around the world. Fronda often accompanied his father, a fisherman, on his daily excursions, and from a young age helped his mother prepare huge pots of pasta for the family. “We didn’t have much money growing up, but we always ate well,” remembers the chef, adding, “…my passion for creating and sharing a meal are personal gifts that I carry with me from my family.”
At the young age of 14, Fronda began an apprenticeship at The Village Restaurant, one of Brooklyn’s better seafood eateries, where he learned the realities of the restaurant business the hard way. Although he was once literally locked in a basement for ten hours cleaning baby artichokes, his experience at The Village is fondly remembered for instilling the kind of work ethic required for one to be a successful chef. Nonetheless, he decided that culinary school might expedite his career advancement and at 18, Fronda not only graduated from high school with the rest of his class, but at the same time was one of the youngest graduates of the New York Restaurant School. He immediately began a year-and- a-half internship at the elegant Midtown Manhattan restaurant, Palio, turning out sophisticated northern Italian cuisine. He then went on to Harold’s, a New York Timestwo-star restaurant specializing in contemporary American fare.
In 1991, Fronda went to work for Restaurant Associates at the company’s acclaimed venue at the Metropolitan Opera House, working under celebrated chef Didier Virot, who became the young chef’s influential mentor. Virot, who would later become executive chef at New York’s renowned Jean- Georges, the flagship restaurant of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, taught Fronda to use the best possible ingredients, work with the best people he could find, and consistently strive to be the best. Fronda moved on to become Chef de Cuisine at the Trustees Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art. After two years there, he was recruited by the California Café company—which later became Tavistock Restaurants, LLC—to become Executive Chef at its new Napa Valley Grille in Paramus, New Jersey. While there, the 23-year-old chef earned an impressive two- star review from the New York Times and N ew Jersey Magazine named Napa Valley Grille “Restaurant of the Year.” Fronda was also invited to appear as a featured chef at the James Beard House, a tremendous achievement for any chef, and a particularly rare honor for a chef of his young age.
In 2000, Fronda moved to Los Angeles to open the new Napa Valley Grille in Westwood, where he remained as Executive Chef for several years. In early 2004, the company invited Fronda to head the kitchen at Cafe del Rey, where the chef’s classic training and exposure to diverse international cuisines would contribute to an exciting and innovative menu. But whether it’s an elaborate dish laced with foie gras and truffles, or an old-fashioned plate of pasta like the one his mom used to make, Fronda maintains a consistent customer-oriented philosophy: “I would never put something on a menu that I wouldn’t be interested in eating myself.”
When not at the stove, Fronda enjoys tennis, wine and shopping at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. A passionate traveler, the 32-year-old chef makes it a point to visit exotic destinations twice a year, bringing back plenty of new ideas for his Cafe del Rey menu.
Shaved Baby Artichoke Salad with Butter Lettuce, Parmesan Cracklings
and Lemon Vinaigrette
3 oz. Lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 oz. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk until blended.
12 baby artichokes
6 basil leaves, julienned
1 Tablespoon chives, chopped
6 teaspoons parmesan cheese, grated
Half of the lemon vinaigrette mixture
Remove part of the stem and clean the heart of the artichokes, peeling and removing the tough exterior leaves. Shave whole artichokes thinly on a mandoline, ensuring uniform slice size.
In a medium bowl, toss the shaved artichoke slices, basil, chives, parmesan and the vinaigrette.
4 Tablespoons grated parmesan
Flatten out the grated parmesan on a non-stick pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
In a large bowl, toss the slices of butter lettuce with the other half of the lemon vinaigrette.
On a salad plate, place ¼ of the butter lettuce tossed with the vinaigrette. Top with ¼ of the artichoke mixture. Sprinkle the parmesan cracklings over the top to finish the dish.