This story is part of an editorial series created in collaboration with ASOS Supports Talent.
The sensory journey to Phillip Basone’s kitchen starts long before you ring his doorbell. Making your way up to the fourth floor walk-up in the NoHo section of Manhattan, New York, you feel the temperature start to rise. By the time you’ve reached his hallway, the aromas of roasted meats and exquisitely seasoned dishes fill the air. And when Basone finally opens the apartment door, the most discerning of culinary noses can suss out what’s on the menu tonight, pernil.
The painstakingly slow roasted pork shoulder that’s a festive staple in Puerto Rican kitchens. This one has been roasting since 9 a.m. “My ex-boyfriend was Puerto Rican,” Basone shares. “His father taught me how to make pernil. It’s my favorite thing to make.” Even though Basone lives a short walk from the massive Whole Foods on the Bowery, the type of pork that’s needed for a good pernil—a juicy shoulder cut with the skin still on—requires an early morning trip to Ottomanelli’s, the old school butcher in the West Village.
The kitchen counter is crowded with containers of dried oregano and brightly colored packages of Goya seasonings. "This is not how I cook at a restaurant,” Basone declares. “This is how I cook at home. You need Sazon, Adobo, and dried oregano for everything.” Basone rolls up the sleeves on his Fila jersey and seasons a pan of boneless chicken thighs by hand. The night’s menu is a low-key, homemade one: pork and chicken tacos, guacamole, chips and salsa. Yes, it’s evident in the preparation and care that’s gone into this pernil, that this meal a labor of love. And given how he first got involved with cooking, it’s even easier to deduce that food is how Basone connects with loved ones.
Originally from Glastonbury, Connecticut, Basone grew up in a house where home-cooked meals were scarcely prepared. “Neither of my parents cooked when I was younger,” admits Basone. “We used to eat out probably six times a week. Nothing fancy, mainly, Chinese, Domino's, and the same garbage. But I got sick of it after a while.” During his high-school years, Basone became a loner, skipping after-school activities and sports to rush home and watch television instead.
“I would just sit there and watch Emeril every afternoon, around 3 p.m.,” he recalls. “My mom would drive me to the grocery store. She'd be like ‘OK, what did Emeril have?’ We'd pick up all the ingredients, the Emeril seasoning mix, and I'd try my best to recreate it.” Basone’s father, recognizing his son’s natural skill in the kitchen, as well as his poor report cards—“I barely passed”—encouraged Phillip to attend culinary school.
Basone secured a spot at the French Culinary Institute in Downtown NYC, where he proved to be an industrious and independent student. Shortly after starting their culinary program, he landed an externship at the Italian restaurant Barbuto in the West Village all on his own and kept up with his studies at the same time. “I went to school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. then, I worked the night shift as a line cook from 3:30 to close,” Basone remembers. It was during his externship at Barbuto that Basone met Jonathan Waxman, the chef and owner of five top-rated restaurants across the country.
Under Waxman’s tutelage, Basone learned the skills and lessons that would continue to serve him throughout his career. Basone has worked three different stints at Barbuto culminating in his role as Executive and Pastry Chef. He’s also worked at Il Buco, another NYC Italian cuisine hot spot, and spent time in the test kitchens of Saveur and Good Housekeeping.
By far, Basone’s most prestigious accomplishment, and also the most personal, has been Cafe Dolores, the two-day pop-up restaurant that he staged as a result of his involvement with online fashion retailer ASOS’s global creative initiative, ASOS Supports Talent, which provided him with the funding and support to make it happen.
With all proceeds going to New Alternatives center for Homeless LGBTQ youth, the restaurant and its seven-course tasting menu were a way for Basone to give back and dabble in running his own restaurant, even if only for a couple nights. “So the idea for the menu was to take what I think of as old school food—like oysters on a half shell, meatballs, and terrines—and reinvent them with flavors that I think are current now,” says Basone. From the inception, the pop-up’s running theme was love; it was named after his grandmother and considered a gift to his elderly grandfather who feared that he might not live long enough to see Basone own his own restaurant. As well, each course in the menu was crafted with a favorite person in mind. “To me, if each dish represents someone—like this is for my mom, this is for my ex-boyfriend—then I would make it more perfect than I would’ve naturally.”
The same can be said for tonight’s family style dinner. Basone’s friends begin to arrive one by one, each of them flustered and running a few minutes later than they said they would be. “All my friends work in fashion, so they’ll be coming in a look,” Basone shares. True to his word, Basone’s friends pull up in fashion-forward ensembles; there are cropped trousers, septum piercings, and leather harnesses. Basone, on the other hand, has a personal style that favors vintage-inspired sportswear and brightly colored Air Jordans in and out of the kitchen. “I like to wear Champion, Fila, and cargo pants. But I'm kind of like a label whore too!"
All around his friends dig into the pernil tacos and speak of upcoming parties that they’re hosting and the clubs they’ll be hitting up that night. Meanwhile, Basone remains the homebody that he was during high school. “The boys love to go out, but I don't really like going out,” he shares sheepishly. “I like the music, I like to dance, but I don't like anything else that goes with nightlife.”
Life is chill for Basone. He's no longer working the line at a restaurant or keeping late hours. His main gig right now is working as a private chef for a family, and shortly before that as a chef at the fashion brand Coach. He's taking this down time to chill out and regroup—no more late night parties, he's hitting the gym and giving up cigarettes—before heading back into the intense restaurant world. "It can literally ruin your life," he shares laughing. "It’s like, you just got off of working eight hours of high-intensity labor, you need to chill out and settle, so you're not going to bed until 3 or 4 a.m." But he knows that like any true passion, it’ll be give and take. To hear him tell it in his own words, the restaurant industry will be a true love “definitely, forever.”
ASOS Supports Talent is a global initiative from online fashion destination ASOS, providing up and coming creative talent with funding, mentoring and support to realize personal passion projects. Find out more here.