On the line / Benji Pecoraro
Catching up with Vera's head chef
Photo by kc kratt
Name: Benjamin Pecoraro
Years behind the stove: 15
Restaurant: Vera; 220 Lexington Avenue, Buffalo; verabuffalo.com; 551-6262
An Orleans County native, Benji Pecoraro moved to Buffalo in 2002. Past gigs include work in the kitchens at Hutch’s, Amy’s Place, and Merge—those last two seem less surprising once you learn he’s led a (mostly) vegan lifestyle since he was fourteen, but more on that later. For the past few years, Pecoraro’s held down the role of sous chef role at Vera, the establishment responsible for pioneering Buffalo’s craft cocktail movement. In 2016, he was promoted and now works as the restaurant’s head chef.
In his short time as the kitchen’s lead, this bashful cook has quietly transformed the eatery’s dinner menu, illustrating how rustic fare, without a lot of obfuscation, can be beautiful in the hands of a cook with a knack for color, texture, and form.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you have done instead?
Dog walker, modern day Johnny Appleseed, welder, or superhero
How do you think being a vegan impacts your creative decision making as a chef?
I’d say I’m ninety-five percent vegan. I sometimes dabble in eating cheese when I’m lazy or when there’s pizza in my face—and I consider all doughnuts to be vegan, because well ... doughnuts. I’d say being vegan makes my job hard, but it also means I incorporate grains and vegetables into dishes more often. I feel not eating meat/dairy generally allows me a fresher take on old classics as well as meat-forward dishes. It’s like painting or making art with foreign material and unknown outcomes; it makes it fun!
What do you feel you do—in approach, theory, or practice—that is original or unique?
I don’t think you can be original or unique anymore. People, in my opinion, are starting to see that, if you put out solid tasting food, you don’t have to be original, you don’t have to be the hippest or newest thing making dots on plates of puréed corn or exotic animal. You just need to make good, rad food. If you make people happy with food, they usually don’t care if it’s unique or original.
Is there a specific technique you’re experimenting with right now?
Mostly just different dough fermentation processes. I want to make the kind of dough that you’ll wait for in a line around the block during a snowstorm because it’s so good.
What do you want people to know about you?
I may not be the most talented or knowledgeable chef in the world, but I hope I give customers something to crave. In my work, I strive to give a piece of myself—my heart and my passion—while also giving customers a reason to be like, "Hey, I really wanna go to Vera because that scallop dish or gnocchi dish or raw vegan lasagna or Italian burger was holy shit orgasmic."
What are your go-to cookbooks right now?
Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California (by Travis Lett), Bar Tartine and Matthew Kenny’s cookbooks, and books from Skratch Labs and Feed Zone
What do you on your day off?
I ride/race my bike, play ice hockey, relax with my thoughts in the woods, rock climb, kick around the ol’ soccer ball, sleep, or think about doing something and then do nothing at all.
What do you think Buffalo’s food scene really needs?
Pizza cocktail restaurants, taco places, cafes, and a raw/vegan/vegetarian bike-powered food cart! No, really. More diversity, or for everyone to work together to make rad food. It seems like this city is spreading itself super thin because someone had an idea to do something that they saw work somewhere else and think they can do it better. Let’s grow as a city, but let’s not kill the city.
What is the most exciting thing about Buffalo’s restaurant scene?
Its ability to want more.
Christa Glennie Seychew is the owner of Nickel City Chef and a negroni drinker ever-grateful to Vera for its role in Buffalo’s rise.