Nick Liberato travels across vast continents to help struggling restaurateurs in the Netflix series Restaurants on the Edge. Esther Faith Lew finds out more.
Nick Liberato’s affinity with food began in his childhood days while growing up with his family in South Philadelphia. From working at local food stands in the Italian Market to starting his own catering business and having celebrities as clients, Liberato’s culinary journey has been nurtured by healthy doses of passion and determination that saw him developing the skills and experience needed in the restaurant business.
From front of house and the kitchen to back-end responsibilities, Liberato is a restaurateur who walks the talk in every sense of the word. His first restaurant acquisition was The Venice Whaler in California, where he demonstrated sharp business acumen in turning it into a venue that generates multimillion dollars in sales. This was followed by The Pier House where he led the charge as executive chef, serving up a seafood-inspired menu prepared with a modern twist.
His street creds are due largely to Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur David Myers who taught him the ropes. Today, Liberato dances across the many tightropes of the restaurant business and travels the world wearing the hats of chef, cocktail mixologist, restaurateur and producer in his recent stint in Restaurants on the Edge.
Liberato shares his thoughts and experiences with epicure:
Tell us about your top 3 most memorable travel experiences.
Traveling to Italy in 2012 for four months to live in each region and cooking my way through the entire country! I enjoyed wild boar hunts, wine making, truffle hunting and eating at the best palaces in Italy.
In 2019, I travelled to Slovenia for one of the episodes on Restaurants on the Edge. Although this country was never a place I thought I would go to, it turned out to be one of the most amazing countries to travel through. I drove all throughout the country going to vineyards, locals homes, mountains, beaches and the city of Ljubljana. The food and culture were not to be forgotten, but the most memorable part of the experience was the people.
One place I have been going to for years is the Osa Peninsula in the very southern part of Costa Rica. It’s like the garden of Eden of Central America. The jungles fall over black sand beaches that are lined with blue water and perfect waves. The ocean is plentiful with fish and the jungle has an abundance of fruit growing wild everywhere. This was one of my happy places for sure.
How have your travel experiences influenced your culinary mindset and techniques?
My travel experiences around the world have made a tremendous impact on my chef life, taking inspiration, passion and techniques to a new level to further my career and mind.
In Italy, I was able to get back to my Italian roots and apply that rustic style to my cooking. Working with what I have and utilising every part of the animal and vegetable changed my way of thinking. Sicily, which I consider a complete other country, blew me away on a whole other level. Their love for the sea and how that comes through with every dish they make made a huge impact on me.
Cooking in Colombia (South America) opened my mind to fire and the amazing flavour it brings to everything. They cook food in the coals, on the coals and hanging by wire high above the coals. I also loved how they served a whole pig which is called Lechon and stuffed with rice and vegetables. This culture has always inspired me every time I return to the country.
One of the most inspiring culinary countries for me has always been Mexico. I’ve been travelling and cooking down there for 20 years. The colours are always something that I feel really radiated the pulse of what Mexico is about. The vibrant tropical colours and specifically the deep reds really inspired me in plating dishes. The music also brings a lot of good times to the kitchen as well! I need music to cook; it’s a big part of my life and how I work in the kitchen.
Which are the up and coming culinary destinations to look out for and why?
I have had my eye on Peru for a while. Their produce is next level as they have so many different varieties of vegetables. Between the environment with beach and mountain locations, it offers many possibilities for a culinary experience.