Benjamin Balesteri was born in Monterey and raised in the Salinas Valley. The Swiss farming family on his mother’s side gave him an appreciation of growing seasonal vegetables, artisanal cheese, and seasonally butchered meats. The Sicilian fishermen on his father’s side taught him how to fish in the Monterey Bay and the best ways to prepare freshly caught fish and seafood and bring out their unique qualities.
Balesteri, now 33 years old, showed a natural aptitude for the culinary arts. He began working in restaurants at an early age, and eventually enrolled in culinary school at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Through visiting chefs, he was given an opportunity at Tra Vigne to travel to Italy. His time in Italy was both familiar and inspiring to him and it was during this period of his life that he learned firsthand his own Italian culture as well as the language. “Just like the people in Italy, I’m guided by what’s available in the wild and in the garden,” Balesteri explains. “In Italy, they don’t manipulate food, but rather, bring out what’s best about it. I do this at Poggio, as well.”
(credit: Foodie Chap/Liam Mayclem)
Upon his return from Italy, he joined Poggio as a sous chef, and in 2010, he couldn’t resist the challenges of New York City and became the opening sous chef at Lincoln, working under acclaimed Chef Jonathan Benno.
In early 2012, the lure of fishing, surfing, and the country’s best fruits and vegetables brought Balesteri back to California, where he was welcomed home to Poggio. In early 2013, Balesteri was promoted to executive chef at Poggio where he is leading the kitchen and continuing the exciting house cured charcuterie, fresh pasta and culinary program the restaurant has become known for. “Growing up, great food was important to my family, but it was really about people coming together,” Balesteri said. “This is the tradition of Poggio that I intend to carry on.” We met at the Sausalito restaurant for our Foodie Chap chat. Chef Ben is a young Chef with an old soul tapped into old family traditions like farming and fishing. He brings the past to the present with modern flair and it’s evident on every single delicious plate served at Poggio. A young chef to watch but right now his home is Poggio and we are lucky enough to get to enjoy his winning cuisine at Sausalito’s most popular restaurant.
Cheers, enjoy the chat!
KCBS Foodie Chap Podcast:
(credit: Foodie Chap/Liam Mayclem)
Burrata with Lobster, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Roasted Eggplant puree
By Chef Benjamin Balesteri, Poggio
1 each 4oz Di Stefanos Burrata, cut into quarters
½ cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
½ bunch basil chopped
4 each eggplant
½ cup roasted garlic
¼ cup lemon juice
Pinch chili flake
¼ cup olive oil
1 each Maine lobster
¼ cup distilled vinegar
2 cups clarified butter
Cut eggplant in half place skin side up. Roast in a 500 degree oven for 10 minutes or until the skin is charred and the eggplant is cooked through. With a spoon scrape the meat of the eggplant into a food processor, add roasted garlic, chili, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Reserve puree in a pot on the side.
Add vinegar to salted boiling water, add lobster and cook for 8 minutes. Drain shock in ice water. When cool pick the meat reserve.
Assembly warm the clarified butter on low heat, place the lobster in 2-3 minutes just until warm. Spread warm eggplant puree on the bottom of the plate, place burrata, cherry tomatoes and lobster on the plate. Garnish with sea salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with basil.