City Island chef claims fame

City Islander Michael Proietti is a contestant on The Next Food Network Star, a reality show airing on Sunday, June 7. Photo courtesy of Food Network

Michael Proietti is a born television personality – loud and fun. Proietti is a chef extraordinaire –inventive and industrious. He’s also a finalist on The Next Food Network Star and the product of a City Island kitchen.

“I love City Island,” Proietti said. “City Island is all I know.”

Consequently, Proietti is a seafood whiz. He worked as a bus boy and waited tables at the Harlem Yacht Club. Now chef at the Radisson Hotel in New Rochelle, Proietti prepares drool-worthy cayenne shrimp. He lives on City Island.

“Mussels, crab, clam bakes at the beach,” he said. “On City Island, seafood is king.”

The Next Food Network Star is a competitive reality show – ten contestants, nine episodes and a Food Network cooking show for the winner. Proietti and rivals visit the Hamptons, Miami and Hollywood. It airs on Sunday, June 7.

“All the contestants are lunatics,” Proietti said.

There’s Jamika Pessoa from Atlanta, smooth Caribbean flavor, Debbie Lee from Los Angeles, queen of Korean soul food, Melissa d’Arabian, authority on Corsican cuisine and Proietti, of course – a Dolly Parton fan and “kitchen diva.”

Proietti has a thing for spicy Asian and Latin cuisine; his mother and father taught him to experiment.

“I come from a big Italian family,” he said. “If my parents did meatballs, they did 200 meatballs. I have four brothers. I remember eating stir-fry. I remember making empanadas. Our kitchen was a neighborhood hub and I wanted to be there.”

Proietti started cooking in grammar school and attended Lehman High; his friends would drive to City Island for fried chicken breaded with saltines.

“My best friend, Joe, still talks about it,” Proietti said.

After Lehman, Proietti paid his dues at the New York Restaurant School. He worked at a City Island favorite, the Black Whale, then landed a purchaser slot at Asia de Cuba downtown. Those were heady days for Proietti.

“I was 25, handling a multi-million dollar account,” he said.

In 2006, the New Rochelle Radisson called. At the hotel, he riffs on American comfort food. Proetti’s shrimp is cool; he adds a splash of lime. He visits Arthur Avenue for pasta and Jerome Avenue for chicharrones.

“I’m an artist,” Proietti said. “I love to paint. I love to cook.”

A friend encouraged the 28-year old to enter the Food Network contest. Filming the show was terrific but stressful, Proietti said. He signed a pledge to keep mum; with or without the food network, Proietti wants to launch a travel cooking show.

“I love the kitchen, but I also love entertaining,” he said. “The first episode will blow you away.”

Rachael Ray, Alton Brown, Guy Fieri, Emeril Lagasse, Masaharu Morimoto and other celebrity chefs appear on the show. Needless to say, City Island will be watching.

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