Chefs share how they celebrate the springtime holidays
STORY: Lia Picard
Easter and Passover, beginning April 19 and 21 respectively, look a little different for chefs and restaurateurs. The hustle and bustle of the food industry means that sometimes they have to get creative about when they celebrate and how. To get the scoop, we chatted with two area restaurant veterans: John Castellucci, executive chef of Bar Mercado in Inman Park, part of the growing Castellucci Hospitality Group (CHG); and Alon Balshan, chef/owner of Alon’s Bakery & Market in Morningside.
For Castellucci, holidays have been a serious matter since childhood. The youngest of three siblings, he recalls that before the expansion of CHG, Easter was always celebrated at his parents’ home in Johns Creek. “Growing up, we would always use Sugo [the first CHG restaurant] as our kitchen for the holidays,” he says. He recalls how they would do mini Top Chef-style challenges. “We would run in and have our own assignments,” he says. “We’d go, ‘Hey, we got 45 minutes. Everybody run!’”
Things look a little different now that the Castelluccis run a mini empire. “Unfortunately, family get togethers are few and far between,” he says. Still, the clan makes an effort to convene for major celebrations, and Easter is no exception. Instead of everyone going to Johns Creek, though, the holidays are spread out among the siblings’ homes, and now the next generation of Castelluccis is part of the mix (Fred, the oldest sibling, has a daughter). One thing is certain: There are always meatballs prepared by the Castellucci patriarch, Federico.
Balshan celebrates Passover. As a child in Israel, he looked forward to his mother’s cooking and the gathering of relatives. “I remember as a child, waiting for Passover because there was all of the family,” he says. “I grew up in a small house, so 12 was a lot of people.” One of his mother’s signature dishes was stuffed artichokes. “It was fresh artichokes, not in a can or whatever. It was always fresh.”
At Alon’s, customers can get a taste of his favorite Passover dishes via its holiday menu, deep with festive offerings. “Of course, we have a flourless cake and a brisket,” he says. “And lots of chopped liver.”
Alon’s Bakery & Market
1394 N. Highland Ave. N.E.
99 Krog St. N.E.