Dante Boccuzzi grew up in Parma, went off to New York, learned from famed chef Charlie Palmer and cooked for Robert De Niro. Now, he’s back home and about to transform Lockkeepers into something that’s more sleek, modern and cool — something he’ll call Dante. But that’s not all. He also has plans for a cookbook he’s almost finished writing, some innovative tableware he’s designed and a TV cooking show for kids he’s been developing for De Niro’s wife. Welcome to … Dante’s Inferno
The stoves are fired up, the sauté pans are smoking, and it’s hot as hell. But Dante Boccuzzzi is in heaven.
This Saturday night, orders are rolling in one after another without pause at Lockkeepers, the Valley View restaurant he purchased in March. Cooks hustle to keep pace, ladling garlic soup into bowls, braising fistfuls of endive and throwing steaks on the grill.
Boccuzzi’s directing the action, positioned opposite the stoves on the far side of a 20-foot stainless steel prep area outfitted with counters, cooler drawers and a window where finished dishes await pickup. He reads the tickets as they come rolling out of the printer and issues instructions to the guys at the hot and cold stations, using a shorthand they all understand.
“Fire a skate.”
“I need a wedge.”
His voice is commanding, pitched low with a sandpaper edge. Swigging Pellegrino straight from the bottle, he continues to call out orders for the next three hours.
“Hold the lamb.”
“Where’s my tuna?”
“One rav, one chicken. Now.”
Every plate comes to him for inspection before servers bring it out to the dining room. Each gets a split second of his full and undivided attention. He cleans the edges, rearranges pinches of microgreens, moves a tiny cup of sauce an eighth of an inch to the left.
Anything that doesn’t measure up to his exacting standards is sent back. A charcuterie board fails to please him. He grimaces in annoyance, growls a deep throaty rumble and carries it over to the cook who assembled it. “I don’t like how the meat’s cut. It’s too rough. Do it again.”
But after spending the past 16 years in fast-paced kitchens around the world, including time as a personal chef to Robert De Niro and a five-year run as executive chef at Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s famed New York City restaurant, the 35-year-old with the Michelin-star résumé has earned the right to be critical.
Besides, he owns the place. For the first time in his life, Boccuzzi’s the boss. And the stakes are high. This is Lockkeepers after all, one of Northeast Ohio’s most revered fine-dining establishments. And it’s only going to get tougher. This month he’s closing down for a week, and will reopen as Dante on Sept. 29. Then it won’t be just his restaurant, it’ll be his name above the door.
Check back Sept. 1 for the full story.