Can you believe Noodles Italian Café & Sushi Bar is going on 30 years old? Not one to sit back and let time pass him by, chef and owner Seth Berman talked to us about how he keeps this local institution moving forward with innovations, traditions and a whole lot of work to keep Neapolitans coming back into the restaurant’s fourth decade. Read on to learn Chef Berman’s secret recipe for success.
Q: What is your culinary background?
A: Thanks to my heritage, my passion for food and caring for guests developed from a young age. My mother’s side of the family is Italian, and my father’s side is from an Eastern Bloc background, so for me there was a culinary diversity. I was raised in New York City with a culture of family feasting that encompassed love and the love of food.
Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
A: It’s the joy and comfort you can bring others with food, from the emotional healing power of comfort food to the health benefits of nutritionally rich meals.
Q: You said that your family didn’t just eat while you were growing up, but you had a tradition of feasting. Can you describe a family feast from your childhood and what was on the table? Who prepared it?
A: We ate in a variety of ways, from gourmet feasts to humble meals and large family gatherings. Italian Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house with pasta, meatballs with a rich and slow-simmered tomato sauce with chunks of beef and sausage floating in it.
Another example would be my father would make a vegetable goulash and add my mother’s fresh eggplant to it, then the next day my mom might take the leftovers and mix it with some fresh made pasta, add some olives and capers and voila! We were eating a vegetable primavera fusion dish.
Q: What brought you to Naples?
A: In the very early ’80s, New York was a rough place to live, and my grandparents had moved to Naples. Once my parents came here and discovered Naples’ beauty and beaches, it was all she wrote and we moved.
Q: Which dishes are you particularly proud of at Noodles?
A: We have inventive menu items that have stood the test of time from our opening days back in 1991 and a few added not long after that, like the Famous Chicken and Artichoke hearts pasta: it features a basil-infused pesto cream sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and Greek Kalamata olives served over homemade fresh spinach fettuccine. Another is the amazing Pasta Bayou, which is a nod to New Orleans flavors. It has Cajun blackened chicken tenders sautéed with Andouille sausage, served with smoky Gouda cheese over black pepper and cumin fettuccine pasta. A huge local favorite is our Chicken ‘n’ Broccoli dish sautéed with garlic and olive oil.
Q: You added sushi to your menu some years ago. What inspired the change and how has it influenced your concept?
A: At the halfway point about 15 years into our Noodles evolution, we moved to our current location and we knew it was time for something new. A restaurant really needs to reinvent itself every so often or every seven to 10 years. When we opened at the new location in 2004, Asian cuisine was exploding with all age groups and all diners, especially sushi.
Over the first 14 years that we were opened, we have had dishes touched on many culinary influences, usually over or with fresh pasta that we made in house. One of these dishes included an Asian sesame chicken or salmon prepared in the “wok shock” stir-fry style.
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