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Chef Spotlight: Dan Nistorescu of SIDE DOOR in Midtown East

Chef Dan Nistorescu of SIDE DOOR

Chef Spotlight: Dan Nistorescu of SIDE DOOR in Midtown East

Growing up in Brasov Romania, Dan Nistorescu thought his professional future would be dedicated to the law, but when, at 18 years old, he took a side job at restaurant while attending school in England, his career trajectory changed. He had always relished lending a hand with meals in his family kitchen and as the result of the job discovered Nistorescu loved working in a restaurant environment. He decided he should pursue a hospitality industry career; so after graduation from Brasov's Universitatea Europeana he signed a contract with Carnival Cruise, for which he was a bartender and dining room host.

In 1998, Nistorescu set his sights on New York City, where he found work as a server at the Upper West Side's La Grolla, which, during his decade there, became the source of his hands-on culinary and restaurant business education. By 2008, he had become the Italian restaurant's chef and co-owner. When a deteriorating economy prompted the closing of La Grolla in 2009, Nistorescu took space on the same Amsterdam Avenue block to open Pizza by La Grolla. There, he delighted in treating his pies like blank canvases on which to conduct delectable gastronomical experimentation, which attracted a large loyal following. He was heart-broken when, five years later, the landlord doubled the rent, forcing him to shutter the restaurant.

Having closed one career chapter, he opened another in the corporate arena as executive chef and managing operator for Kellari Hospitality Group, where he oversaw five restaurants and refined his American, Greek and French cooking skills. When the group's continued growth, much of it due to his efforts, made it too corporate for his comfort, Nistorescu decided to move on.

After a stint as executive chef at Fresco by Scotto, filling in for a friend slide lined by surgery, Nistorescu took on an executive chef role with In Good Company (IGC) Hospitality Group, for which he took charge of three venues at the Refinery Hotel - Parker & Quinn, Refinery Rooftop and Winnie's Jazz Bar - in early 2019.

When the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the closure of the hotel, for the first time in years Nistorescu had some free-time on his hands, some of which he filled by re-kindling a friendship that began in his hometown with fellow Romanian and hospitality industry veteran Istvan Nagy. The owner of the Upper Eats Side's popular One Lenox gastropub, Nagy had plans to open another concept in Midtown Manhattan, for which he sought culinary direction from his old friend. Nagy also recruited Nistorescu to help him with his initiative to feed healthcare workers and the homeless. Consequently, Nistorescu organized the kitchen of Nagy's, as yet unopened, second gastropub to accommodate the large-scale cooking operation.

Concurrently, he worked with Nagy to create a menu of intriguingly international casual fare for what would become Side Door. Upon its November 2020 debut, Nistorescu was Side Door's Executive Chef and Culinary Director.

Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Nistorescu about his career and Side Door for our "Chef Spotlight" feature.

What was your earliest interest in cooking?

I grew up in a family where someone was always cooking. Some of my earliest memories are of being in the kitchen fascinated by the sights, sounds and smells of food preparation. From an early, my brother and I were involved in making of family meals pretty often. By the timeI was11, I was cooking simple dishes on my own, surprising my parents.

Who were some of your career mentors?

My father was the one who inspired me the most to cook and pursue a career in the culinary arts. He was a great home cook and very passionate about every meal he prepared. It was such a joy cooking alongside him. He was not afraid to explore unfamiliar recipes and use new ingredients. This made our experiences cooking together fun and delicious.

What culinary styles have influenced your career?

My culinary journey started with the Romanian cuisine I grew up with, which is a blend of various culinary cultures, including German, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish, and Russian.. all while maintaining its own authenticity. Down the road, I became infatuated with several other cuisines. I can now say I admire Italian cuisine as much as Southern cooking or Indian curries. I strongly believe every culture has something to say when it comes to food. New American cuisine is my favorite approach because this style allows me to canvas my ideas, experiment with recipes, and express new flavors, all under one umbrella.

What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?

My career in the hospitality business started in the front-of-house, working behind the bar serving drinks and in the dining room greeting guests; but I always wanted to be in the kitchen cooking. The moment I decided to hang up my suit and put on a chef jacket and apron, I felt fulfilled. This was by far the best decision I ever made. I love what I do and this comes through as a key feature in my work as a chef. I produce high quality dishes that are carefully thought out, blend different styles, and bring a unique approach to traditional meals.

What is your favorite meal?

My favorite meal speaks to my Romanian heritage - goulash, Transylvanian style, with polenta and a lot of horseradish cream and sour pickles on the side.

Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.

Side Door is a New American gastropub with an Eastern European accent. The owner, Istvan Nagy, and I grew up in Brasov, Romania, one of the most beautiful cities of Transylvania with a great culinary culture. We both worked for well-known international cruise lines prior to moving to the US. The Side Door menu represents our worldwide travels collecting recipes and memories, childhood favorites, local cuisine, and seasonal offerings. Most importantly, we strive to offer food made from sustainable ingredients. The space includes a large bar with a great selection of international beers, wines, and spirits, featuring fruit distillates, like slivovitz. There are eight flat screen TVs showcasing all the prime sporting events and every table has its own power outlet; and there is powerfully reliable complimentary WiFi. A mezzanine area overlooking the dining room and bar hosts private events.

Side Door is located at 151 E 57th St, New York, NY 10022. The restaurant is open every day from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Take out and delivery is available. For more information and menus, visit https://www.sidedoornyc.com/ and call 646.422.7660. Follow Side Door on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @sidedoornyc.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chef Dan Nistorescu


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