Nixon Collector & Chef Brings New Flavors West
Chef Robbie Felice talks about his Pasta Ramen pop-up and Nixon affinity.
Meet nationally acclaimed Chef, and long-time Nixon collector, Robbie Felice. He's been pairing crisp watches with his dishes throughout his culinary career.
"I'll never forget when I got my first Nixon. I was obsessed with it," says Chef Felice.
Well, we are obsessed with his Pasta Ramen pop-up, now open in LA until Nov. 13. Lock down a reservation at the secret location soon by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or you might never get the chance.
For now, get to know a bit about Chef Felice in this juicy interview below.
Chef Robbie Felice's Top Picks
How did your culinary endeavors begin? How did that evolve into you becoming a restaurateur?
I’ve been in the industry for as long as I can remember. My father owned restaurants my whole life, so I vividly remember the only way I was able to spend time with him was going to the restaurants. I went from going to visit him to eventually working for him. Once it was time for college, I told myself if I could get into The Culinary Institute of America that would be it and this would be my life. Sure enough, I got in! I knew after college I had to work for the best and gain as much knowledge as I possibly could.
I traveled around the United States working in restaurants from NYC to Las Vegas. A dream of mine was to go cook throughout Europe, so I did that, too. I don’t think I was really even ready to open my first place when I was only 26. But it happened. I partnered with my father, Joe, and we opened our first place together in Wayne, New Jersey called Viaggio, which translates to travel or the journey.
What restaurants do you own and what goals have you checked off the list already?
I am currently the chef and partner of multiple restaurants:
Viaggio - Wayne, NJ
Osteria Crescendo - Westwood, NJ
pastaRAMEN - Montclair, NJ
pastaRAMEN - Secret locations
My whole life has been about setting goals for myself and following my dreams. When I started at The Culinary Institute of America my career really started to take shape. I wanted to intern at a Mario Batali restaurant. So, I picked one of his most recognized establishments known as Babbo. It was a goal to not only do my internship there but to work there afterwards. I did just that. Another goal was to become a sous chef for the Batali company. Another was to pack up everything and go work throughout Europe in Michelin star restaurants.
One of the best goals I had was to move to Los Angeles, California and cook. This one was constantly being put on hold or moved but never forgotten! Finally, last week I was able to move out here with pastaRAMEN for the next two months! I think the coolest part is that I never gave up on it and now I’m out here living and cooking my own food for my own project!
"I always want to be different and original and this concept was it!"
Can you explain the Pasta Ramen concept? Where it came from, when and why?
PastaRAMEN started during the pandemic. Instead of sitting at home I decided to create something new. Obviously, I was busy saving my restaurants but I didn’t want to take my foot off the gas. Wafu Italian food is a real thing throughout Japan and even Italy. It is barely done here in America. So that means I had to do it. The word Wafu means “in the style of Japanese.” So, basically, in the style of Japanese Italian. I went to my soon-to-be-business-partner Luck’s house and talked to him all about Wafu Italian and all the crazy ideas I had for it. I always want to be different and original and this concept was it!
We started off in New Jersey as a speakeasy prohibition-style Omakase where diners wouldn’t know where the dinner was until the morning of their reservation. They would then receive a text message telling them where to go. Since our first dinner, we have taken it around NJ, NYC, Miami, and now our last stop is Los Angeles before finally opening up a brick and mortar in Montclair, NJ. This space will be a more casual version of the secret pop-up.
Why did you want to bring it to LA?
When I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, I was working in NYC at Babbo. Gina Depalma, who was the pastry chef, had flown me out to LA for the first-ever LA food and wine event in 2011. I was instantly hooked. I was absolutely obsessed with the restaurant scene, beaches, palm trees and everything that LA was. When I went back to NYC I called up my best friend Brian Arruda who I graduated from the CIA with and said I was so over NYC and we should move to Los Angeles.
The next week we quit our jobs. I sold my car, packed everything I owned and we started our journey to Los Angeles. We never made it, though. We lived in Vail Colorado for a year and then Las Vegas for almost four. I was so close to living in LA but never made it. The idea of moving there and living there was always on my mind. So, when we started taking pastaRAMEN around the country I knew LA would be on the list! I am ecstatic to be out here even if it's only for a few months cooking Wafu Italian food.
What does the secretive, invite-only approach bring to the table?
It’s fun. It’s an experience. I say it all the time, going out to dinner isn’t just about the food you eat, it's about the whole experience. Everything from who you are with to the drive or even the weather.
We wanted the pastaRAMEN experience to start from the second diners are trying to get an invite to the secret location, and we wanted that suspense to build leading up to that first bite of food!
What details can you share about the experience?
It’s a memorable experience that’s meant to be fun. Fine dining doesn’t have to be stuffy anymore. It can be in a secret location playing good music serving fun and different food. The menu is usually about 10 courses and we do three complementary pairings.
“You are nothing without a good team…”
Can you talk about the ingredients needed for becoming a well-respected chef? Is it culinary knowledge, industry knowledge, ingredient sourcing, creativity, the right staffing (all or none of the above)?
It is definitely all of the above. Our industry is very tough and stressful. I think you guys nailed it for a few of the keys to being successful. Start with a good product and end with a good product. All good chefs will tell you ingredients matter. It’s one of the most important things in cooking.
You are nothing without a good team and I feel like as I grow this becomes more and more apparent. Culinary and industry knowledge is also a big one. Culinary knowledge helps with cooking and creating where industry knowledge helps more on the business side of things.
What’s your relationship to Nixon? How long have you been rocking our timepieces? What makes you choose Nixon?
My relationship with Nixon is really incredible. I honestly don’t know what I've done to deserve the amount of love and support they show me. It's so cool to have a company that I've loved for as long as I can remember (since back in my snowboarding and skating days) that supports me now as a chef and a restaurant owner. Chad in particular is the man. I have so much respect for him.
I'll never forget when I got my first Nixon. I was obsessed with it but I was also like, “I need one of those big boy 51-30 Chronos.” I want to say six months later I purchased one. I have around five in my collection now! I think everyone chooses Nixon first for the look and style. But once you dig into the company and see who they really are you fall even more in love with the watches and the Nixon community.
What other ambitions do you have in the culinary world?
If I started listing all my ambitions I have in the culinary world, you’d have readers saying this guy is really crazy. I like to keep these to myself and let my actions speak. I have a ton of crazy things coming up that I’m extremely excited and grateful for. It's super dope to have Nixon by my side through all of them.