John DeLucie (BA ’89), executive chef and proprietor of the West Village hot spot The Lion, as well as the Upper East Side restaurant Crown and - his latest - Bill's on East 54th Street, learned early on that good food was a sure route to popularity.
“I had a lot of friends because of my mom’s cooking,” says DeLucie, who grew up on Long Island. “My friends still talk about my mother’s pasta fagioli.”
But The Waverly Inn, the restaurant he opened in 2007, is another level of popularity altogether. DeLucie’s partner in the venture is Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, and many of the restaurant’s clientele have appeared in the magazine’s pages; it has become known as much for its celebrity diners as for its top-shelf comfort food (most famously, the $55 mac and cheese with shaved black truffles).
DeLucie wrote about his indirect path to becoming a chef and restaurant owner in his memoir, The Hunger: A Memoir of an Accidental Chef, published last year by HarperCollins. Shortly after the book was published, he also spoke about his career to an intimate gathering of Gallatin students during a Dean’s Roundtable last spring. When he graduated from Gallatin, he told Gallatin Today, his plan was “to replace Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin.” Instead, he held a number of sales jobs, played music and started cooking on his own. He was working as an executive recruiter when he decided to take a 12-week cooking class at the New School, the first and only cooking class he’s ever taken.
“When I had all these sales jobs,” he says, “I was not really fulfilled, so I took this class and found out that I had an aptitude to really do this.”
As The Hunger recounts, his first job— chopping 40 pounds of onions for Dean & DeLuca—was less than swanky. But from there, he moved to a number of increasingly upscale restaurants until he and two business partners, along with Carter, bought Ye Olde Waverly Inn and turned it into the Waverly Inn.
Last spring, he moved on to open a second restaurant in the West Village, The Lion. The menu ranges from familiar to fancy, with a burger special blend to 28-day aged côte de boeuf for two. DeLucie, who is primarily at The Lion now, says he wanted to create something special and different, with a nostalgic, comfortable feel.