Cooking at home with chef Carl Falcone

As chef at downtown Canton’s landmark restaurant Bender’s Tavern, Carl Falcone spends very long days in the bustling kitchen surrounded by food, food, food.

As chef at downtown Canton’s landmark restaurant Bender’s Tavern, Carl Falcone spends very long days in the bustling kitchen surrounded by food, food, food.

And when he gets home?

“I cook. I have two children, it’s a regular house. We have to cook,” Falcone said. “If I’m home, we sit down to eat dinner together.”

Asked if his wife, Sheryl, cooks, Falcone skipped over the question and said that the kids “would much rather that dad cooks than mom.”

His description of the kitchen in his Jackson Township home is straight to the point: “I wish it was bigger. More room, more room!”

The refrigerator and cupboards “are almost all stocked,” Falcone said. “I like them well-stocked. If I want to make something, I don’t want to run out to the store. I like it to be there. There’s always a couple kinds of olive oil, probably seven kinds of vinegar. Always good rice, ’cause I love rice.”

As for cookware, Falcone said, “You have to have good sauté pans. They conduct the heat. I’m a big fan of wooden spoons, wooden cutting boards. You really should have a good set of knives and know how to sharpen them. I use a lot of utensils, certain things for certain tasks.”

While immersed in cooking all day, Falcone is ready for food when he gets home from Bender’s. “I don’t like to eat at work,” he said. “I taste things all day long, but I don’t sit down and eat.”

GROCERY SHOPPING

Falcone’s second favorite thing after cooking is shopping for food.

“I love to go to the grocery store,” he said. “My very favorite grocery store is Aldi. My mom would always have the coolest stuff, and it was from Aldi. From the outside, you’d never really know what it’s like. Then we tried it, and whooah! It was incredible. Over the years, I’ve probably only bought three things I didn’t care for, and they took them right back. They have incredible pot stickers, and they only have them one time a year. I got a digital kitchen scale there.”

He shops at Marc’s as well, he said. He definitely would go to other, pricier grocery stores if he wanted fresh fish, he said.

By proximity if nothing else, Falcone’s kids—Vianna, 13, and Triston, 19—are enthusiastic foodies.

“They are crazy well-versed in food,” he said proudly. “They’ll eat more stuff than I will. They know good food ’cause they were raised on it.”

Fondly, Falcone shares a story about when Triston was 4 years old and the family was vacationing at the Jersey Shore.

“One night, we went to one of those crab houses with the communal tables. The lady came to take our order, Triston looked up at her and said, ‘I’ll have a lobster.’ She looked at me, and I nodded. The lobster came, I cracked it open for him, and he ate the whole thing. Right after, this older couple came over and the man said, ‘I watched that whole thing.’ He thought it was way cool.”

ROOTS IN COOKING

A chef at one of Canton’s most respected restaurants, Falcone never went to chef’s school. “It’s a gift inside me,” he said.

His great-grandparents helped shape his future culinary path when he was growing up in Canton. “We lived in the part of town where all the ethnic people lived, two doors down from the fire station at Third and Monroe,” he said. “My great-grandparents, the Colettis, their whole yard was garden. They grew everything. My father’s grandmother, Mary Coletti, made bread, cheese, homemade pasta. They had a prosciutto press in the basement.”

Falcone’s other great-grandmother, Carmella Vitale, worked as a cook at the Onesto Hotel in downtown Canton.

A self-described “shy, backward kid,” Falcone’s first restaurant job was as a server at Denny’s for two years. “Then I went into a kitchen and never came out,” he said.

When he was 20, Falcone began cooking at Milan’s in Louisville, followed by a kitchen job at La Pizza Cafe (“a little place my mom had in North Canton”) and Sourbeck House in Alliance, where he met his future wife.

In 1990, the couple moved to Columbus, where he was hired as a line cook at Rigsby’s Kitchen on High Street, eventually working his way up to sous chef, then chef. “This was the best thing I’d ever done. It was like the food in magazines,” Falcone said. “I came into my own there and developed my own style. It was like an education.”

In 2004, Falcone’s family, which now included two children, moved back to Canton, and he was hired as chef at Bender’s Tavern. At first, there was friction, he said, between the old-school kitchen team at Bender’s and his desire to create the kind of creative food he had been making in Columbus.

“Everybody is onboard now. It’s a nice team and a nice environment. I have free rein to do pretty much whatever I want to do, and we do it.”

FEEDING FRIENDS

A drawback of being a professional chef is that “nobody wants to cook for you,” Falcone said. But he does love entertaining friends at home.

“I love having a houseful of people over for food,” he said. “You get to make whatever you want, and you get to use all the fun dishes that you’ve collected. Make a nice atmosphere in your home, and make people feel good. It isn’t work. It’s fun for me. It’s the best.”

A favorite at-home dish
“I like those red and yellow and orange mini sweet peppers,” Falcone said. “I stuff the little guys, then drizzle them with olive oil. They’re done in 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Everybody loves them. They’re especially good with that cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce.”

Stuffed mini sweet peppers with cucumber sauce
“Everybody is onboard now. It’s a nice team and a nice environment. I have free rein to do pretty much whatever I want to do, and we do it.”

A drawback of being a professional chef is that “nobody wants to cook for you,” Falcone said. But he does love entertaining friends at home.
“I love having a houseful of people over for food,” he said. “You get to make whatever you want, and you get to use all the fun dishes that you’ve collected. Make a nice atmosphere in your home, and make people feel good. It isn’t work. It’s fun for me. It’s the best.”

PEPPERS
1 package mini sweet peppers
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground chicken
1 cup small, diced yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
pinch salt and pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Remove tops from peppers, cut slit in side, seed, rinse and drain.

3. Sauté onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil till soft, cool.

4. Mix remaining ingredients with cooled onion/garlic mixture. Fill peppers, slightly overflowing, place on sheet tray. Do not crowd on tray; use two if necessary. Shape any remaining mixture into patties, place on tray. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature. Or they are equally delicious cold.

Cucumber Sauce
2 cups sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin if available)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 yellow onion, grated
1 English cucumber (peeled, seeded, grated, salted with 1 tablespoon kosher salt), set in strainer to drain for 15 minutes. Push out excess juice.

Mix all liquid ingredients together. Then fold in onion and cucumber.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass