Born in Colombia and raised in Staten Island, Bobby Hellen is a local chef at heart. And even in a city as big and blustery as New York, it shows. When he isn’t working on developing a rooftop garden or taking local elementary students to the Union Square Greenmarket, Hellen plies his trade with as much passion for the community as for the food, incorporating a deep respect for the ingredients—whether they’re animal or vegetable—into a menu designed to connect his diners to the cuisine and each other.
Hellen learned to appreciate the communal aspect of cuisine while growing up in a big Italian family, where togetherness often meant large, elaborate meals and that special kind of controlled chaos that only happens in the kitchen. And while his career would find Hellen working under several prominent chefs, he still credits his grandmother—and her many homemade pastas, sausages, and cured meats—as being his biggest influence in the kitchen.
It doesn’t hurt that Hellen has a degree from the CIA and career experience that encompasses the Jean Georges group, The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida, and L’Auberge Carmel in California, where Hellen fed his growing enthusiasm for local products. Now back in his hometown, where he became executive chef of Resto in 2008, Hellen is fusing his mutual love of community, local product, and cuisine with total creative control.
Whether he’s hosting beer dinners, educating his staff on local farmers and purveyors, or breaking down a whole animal for a “Large Format Feast,” Hellen is the consummate community chef. “We really pride ourselves in showing that food should be shared with someone,” he says. Of course, when it’s food like Hellen’s rustic charcuterie or a dish featuring his beloved off-cuts, it might not be easy to share, but we’ll try.