Features 3 minutes 20 June 2024

New York Chef Angela Rito on Tuning out the Noise and Turning up the Heat

One half of the power couple behind some of Manhattan's hit eateries talks shop

New York City by The MICHELIN Guide

See the New York City guide

As half of the cooking dynamo behind New York’s famed Don Angie, Angela Rito is one of the most prolific female chefs in the industry today creating Italian American cuisine.

Rito runs the West Village restaurant with her husband and co-owner Scott Tacinelli. It's a place where reservations are in short supply, and the demand for a table shows no signs of abating. Recently, the couple debuted San Sabino, a seafood-centric eatery located next door to Don Angie and if that doesn't keep them busy enough, they also have a young son, Roman.

Rito grew up in Cleveland in a large Italian-American family and spent much of her childhood working in her grandfather’s bakery, Rito’s Bakery, an establishment that’s still thriving today.

Her family's culinary traditions were the impetus for her to pursue a hospitality career in New York. Her time in the city includes stints at Park Avenue Seasons, where she met Tacinelli, as well as at The Hurricane Club and Quality Meats.

On the heels of opening San Sabino, Rito spoke with us about her cooking style, which female chefs she admires, and how she thinks the industry has changed for women like her.

What was your breakthrough in the industry?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in food—I spent much of my youth helping out at my Sicilian grandfather’s bakery. It was moving to New York City, the food capital of the world (or so it felt like to 22-year-old me!) that was my turning point.  NYC ignited my passion for this industry and is where I believe it all started for me.

How do you define your cooking style, and how do you think that it's distinctive?

It's a modern take on Italian American cuisine. It’s a soulful yet sophisticated interpretation of the genre that is influenced by both my heritage and the foods that Scott and I enjoy eating (Japanese food is one of our favorites). I'd also say it's distinctive in the sense that I take a lot of risks. Italian food is very much rooted in authenticity, and while I respect and appreciate it, what Scott and I do has an element of breaking certain traditional boundaries, utilizing ingredients and techniques from different food genres, and presenting things in a new way.

What's your secret to success in this industry?

I only compete with myself and try to work as hard as I can while putting love and care into everything I do. I try not to get distracted by comparing myself to other people or even to what others might think of what I’m doing. I think this is what's made me successful because I can tune out that type of noise.

Ashley Sears / Don Angie
Ashley Sears / Don Angie

Can you describe the challenges you've encountered as a female chef?
There have been many challenges, but the biggest one has been balancing being a mother and a chef at the same time. Both are very time-consuming, physically demanding full-time jobs.

How has being a female chef helped you professionally?

A big positive aspect is that I have a lot of females on my team. I think this is because being a women-owned and led restaurant encourages new female cooks to join the team and want to work with me as a female chef.

Who are other female chefs you admire and why?

Gabrielle Hamilton, Dominique Crenn, and Nancy Silverton - not only because of their immense talent and what they've achieved but also because I admire that they're mothers and have been able to balance both at the same time. That's not an easy feat!

Do you have mentors who have helped shape your career? If so, can you tell us who they are and how they've had an impact?

Both of my grandmothers have inspired my philosophy around food and hospitality and so much of what we do at Don Angie and now, San Sabino.

Both of these women have always embodied such immense love and care for others, especially for their families, and one of the main ways they showed that is through food.

My paternal grandmother, who was from Napoli, never ceased to amaze me with her natural talent for making almost anything she touched taste delicious. She was always in the kitchen.

My maternal grandmother, who is Italian American and grew up near Little Italy in Cleveland, came from a huge family. She is the queen of hospitality — full of boundless energy and perpetually planning events and social gatherings, bringing people together, entertaining and hosting while making sure everyone is comfortable and fed. These women continue to inspire me to be the chef and hospitality professional that I want to be.

Do you think that the kitchen workplace environment has improved for women in recent years?

Yes! I think the kitchen environment has changed in a very positive way for a variety of reasons, including female employees voicing their opinions, and media attention. Now, the environments are generally more supportive and are working harder to be better. More women are joining the industry, which is encouraging others to follow suit.

What's next for you professionally?

We just opened our second restaurant, San Sabino. It features dishes focused on seafood and handmade pastas in our signature Italian American style. It will be keeping us busy, and I'm excited to watch our team grow and settle into the groove of having two restaurants. 

Ashley Sears / Don Angie
Ashley Sears / Don Angie

Hero image: Angela Rito


Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading