Not too often does a restaurateur have the gusto to go toe to toe with fiery TV personality and renowned chef Gordon Ramsay -- especially when it’s on the Scot’s own show.
But that’s exactly what Dean Marrazzo -- the co-owner of a new restaurant at Stratford’s Stationhouse Square -- said he did a couple years ago when he was on Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.”
“The premise of the show is the restaurant owner is floundering,” Marrazzo told me during an interview in the dining room of his new Main Street restaurant, Siena Italian Trattoria, located a few steps across the street from the train station.
When the Westchester County resident got the call to be on the Fox reality TV series, the restaurant under fire was a steakhouse he owned in New York called The Olde Stone Mill -- which was indeed floundering at the time with little to no customers on some nights. However, another part of the reason Fox reached out to him, Marrazzo said, had to do with his background in acting.
“I’m an actor, Fox knew I was on board,” said Marrazzo. As the episode progressed and Ramsay’s initial celebrity began to wear, the actor in Marrazzo started to take center stage. During one of the more tense moments of the show, Ramsay said to Marrazzo, “You’re a fake!” to which Marrazzo retorted, “You’re a fake!”
Marrazzo said while he used the show as “propaganda” -- after the episode aired he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Ellen DeGeneres Show as a sort of spokesman for Ramsay’s show while also talking about his own acting career -- he also learned something from the Scottish chef which became a catalyst for where he is today.
“He told me, ‘Go back to your Italian roots, that’s what you know,’” Marrazzo said. So not long after the “Kitchen Nightmares” filming, he did just that, opening Siena Italian Trattoria at 2505 Main St. in July 2011.
Although the menu right now is admittedly small, everything on it is authentic Italian, all ingredients straight from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. The ravioli and meats at Siena are made of the same stuff they were made of some 100 years ago, Marrazzo said. In the few months since Siena has opened, the big seller’s been the eggplant parmesan, a dish made by Marrazzo’s wife Barbara that has an interesting backstory.
The other co-owner of the restaurant is a Stratford native named John Hirschbeck, who is now a respected Major League Baseball umpire who was calling the balls and strikes when Barry Bonds broke the home run record with number 756. Well, when Hirschbeck would umpire games in New York for the Mets and Yankees, Marrazzo said he would bring his wife’s eggplant to the ballparks for John and his officiating crew.
Marrazzo said he remembers Hirschbeck jokingly telling him, “We have to open up a restaurant just for the eggplant.”
About halfway through the interview, Marrazzo’s mother-in-law, Marie Hammel, appears from the kitchen. She hands a plate of chicken francese to her son-in-law. Marrazzo breaks off a piece of the tender poultry with a fork and tastes the lemon chicken with an intent look. He recommends to Hammel to add some salt and then tells a waiter to add the dish to today’s specials.
“I can’t diet, I have to taste everything,” he said referring to a role he’s up for in the upcoming movie about John Gotti called “Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father,” which stars John Travolta and will be filmed in New York. Marrazzo is thinking glass half-full because he has a “working relationship with the producer.”
If there’s one thing Marrazzo does not lack, it is confidence. But his pleasant self-assurance seems to come from his drive to succeed -- whether it be in acting or running a moderately-priced authentic Italian restaurant -- and it's not overwhelming or intimidating.
“I feel like I’m really relating to the people,” he said, adding that in a year’s time he hopes that Stratford residents and others -- he’s “banking on” train commuters’ business -- will refer to his restaurant as a place where they can get “an authentic wholesome Italian meal for a reasonable price.”