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Chats / Chef Ralph Scamardella of Avra Madison
courtesy of Warren Jagger

Growing up in Brooklyn, Chef Ralph Scamardella has always been involved with food. He worked in restaurants ever since he can remember, and began his high-end dining career in 1978 at The Plaza Hotel. As a current chef and partner at Tao Group, Chef Ralph’s latest project is the massive hot spot, Avra Madison. We sat down with the impressively successful Chef to talk about the hospitality industry and beyond.


What is the most valuable lesson you’ve ever learned in your field?

Artie Cutler (founder of Carmine’s) taught me to work hard and work for yourself. Also, being in the business, it is important to have equity in order to control your own destiny. If you want to be successful, you have to.

Who is your inspiration in the food world?

My inspiration has always been my mother – she cooked with so much love and attention to detail with everything. In the food world, I worked with Daniel Boulud in the 80’s, and have looked up to him ever since.

courtesy of Warren Jagger
courtesy of Warren Jagger

What is your favorite thing to cook?

A steak. It’s very simple but very tough to do right. I like my steak well-seasoned and perfectly medium-rare. It’s a true art form to cook one perfectly.

What is your favorite cut of steak?

Definitely a New York Strip! I like a steak you can chew and one that develops flavor.

What would you say is the most underrated ingredient that you love cooking with?

Fresh Italian Parsley. It’s often overlooked and excused, but it adds a lot of flavor. Parsley has a very pleasant, strong taste.

courtesy of Alan Battman
courtesy of Alan Battman

What is your #1 recommendation on the Avra Madison menu?

The grilled octopus. It’s very simply slow-roasted in the oven, lightly grilled, and then served with sliced fresh onions, lots of parsley, dill, roasted pepper and lemon.

Outside of cooking (and eating), what are your passions?

Charity work. I am very passionate about raising awareness and funds for various charities, particularly for Autism. I am the Chairman of the Board for Eden II, Autism Speaks and Pop.Earth.

Ralph’s perfect weekend in NYC looks like:

Sleeping in my hotel for 48 hours! I would stay at The Four Seasons.

courtesy of Warren Jagger
courtesy of Warren Jagger

What are some of your favorite places to eat?

I love ethnic food, especially at the smaller mom-and-pop places in Queens. I also love Thai food and the Peruvian rotisserie chicken restaurant, Pio Pio.

What are some places you haven’t been but are dying to go to?

I like to travel a lot. The top three places on my list are Vietnam, Iceland and South Africa, not only for the great food, but also because they seem like interesting places to explore.

What is your favorite cocktail and where do you like to drink it?

I’m not much of a drinker, but when I drink I love going to The NoMad Hotel. In terms of cocktails, I had a sazerac recently in New Orleans at Jazz Fest and have been drinking it everywhere every since!

courtesy of Warren Jagger
courtesy of Warren Jagger

Chef Ralph’s Guide to Manhattan:

special occasion restaurant:

Per Se


I really like Hillstone for a good, comfortable dinner.


There’s a place on Staten Island called Patrizia’s. It’s a great, friendly, family spot.




I love the casual vibe of DBGB.


I hate brunch so much! But if I had to go out, it would be Mike’s Diner in Staten Island. Big plates and big bloody mary’s!


If I’m not cooking my own, I would go to Porter House.


JG Melon – I like it simple.


Serendipity III for the sundae.

For reservations at Avra Madison or any other places mentioned in this interview, contact your lifestyle curator.