Shanna Pacifico may actually live in Williamsburg, but she’s long been a fixture of Manhattan’s dining scene. That’s because she’s spent the better part of her career working for greenmarket guru, Peter Hoffman, landing her first job out of culinary school at his seminal, farm-to-table restaurant, Savoy, and eventually emerging as head chef (and accomplished, on-site butcher) for his intimate, locavore bistros, Back Forty and Back Forty West.
So it came as a bit of a shock when Pacifico suddenly left the fold after ten years, taking on a series of odd jobs before recently surfacing in Brooklyn, as not just chef, but partner, to borough restaurateurs Giulia Pelliccioni and Roberto Aita—of Aita and Mayflower in Fort Greene.
We spoke with Pacifico about what, exactly, precipitated her move from Back Forty, how she essentially landed her new gig through Facebook, and what to expect from Pacifico Fine Foods, her soon-to-debut Brazilian-influenced eatery in Crown Heights.
So after all these years as second-in-command to Peter Hoffman, why the big life change?
Working for Peter for so long was fantastic, and I learned a lot. He was certainly a mentor, a teacher and friend. But it was time. When I had given my notice back in October, I had thoughts of leaving NYC, taking some time off, doing something different. Because needless to say, the restaurant scene in NYC can be a little stressful. I was done, over it. And actually, I was hoping my sabbatical would last through the summer. I was just working some odd jobs and was about to start working at a friends wine bar, because I didn’t want to be the boss, or tell anyone what to do for a while.
How did you end up connecting with your current partners?
A friend of mine saw through Facebook that I was doing nothing, and contacted me about taking a meeting with my current partners. I just thought I’d go in, what did I have to lose, but the meeting went very differently than I’d planned. They actually presented me with the opportunity to be a partner, have my name on the restaurant, and be part of the process from beginning to end, with the hopes of opening a few more small businesses. So much more than just a chef job. So I decided to go for it.
Can you talk a bit about the concept for the restaurant?
When Roberto asked me what I wanted to do, I had no clue, because as I said, I had planned on taking time off, I certainly wasn’t busy planning my own restaurant. I eventually decided I wanted to delve into my background a bit, because I’m Brazilian, and I’ve also lived in Spain and Portugal. And needless to say, because of where I’ve worked, the restaurant will be market-driven as well. So I guess the quick way of saying it is that we’re American-Brazilian. We’ll also delve into a lot of whole animal butchery, getting in a pig a week, or a half steer. That will come a little bit later, though once I’ve figured out the space and the neighborhood.
You previewed some of your dishes at a pop-up dinner at City Grit, but can you share a bit more about what we can expect from the menu?
There’s going to be lots of plantains, both sweet and green. But there will be American influences too, like pork chops paired with creamed corn, because it’s one of my favorite things to eat. We’ll do yucca fritters with a yellow aji aioli. There will be a ceviche of the day on the menu. Grilled chicken hearts, which is a very Brazilian thing. I asked a supplier friend of mine to start setting aside chicken hearts for me. One of the dishes I previewed was a Brazilian-African seafood stew with peanuts and coconut milk and spinach. There’s a huge African influence in Brazilian food and a huge Portuguese influence in African food, so it kind of all goes around in this circle.
Do you have an anticipated opening date?
Right now, we’re looking at the last week in June. Hopefully the 30th at the latest. It’s Fourth of July weekend, but I think that’s perfect…it will give us an opportunity to get our legs under us. We just need to do some hiring, dot our i’s and cross our t’s, and we’ll be ready to go.
Crown Heights is really emerging as a serious dining hub. Where have you found yourself eating and drinking in the neighborhood, since you’re still in the middle of build-out on your own place?
I’ve been to Glady’s, which is down the street from us. I think the space looks really cool and it has very tasty food and cocktails. And then there’s Mayfield, where I’ve been a couple of times. It reminded me a lot of the Back Forty menu, which was another decided factor for me to not try and simply repeat the whole seasonal, farm-to-table thing, because the neighborhood already has that!