From its opening in 2007, dining at Firebox has always provided more than a delicious meal. It has given diners the chance to contribute to a mission: bringing jobs, investment, and opportunity to Hartford, Connecticut’s Frog Hollow Neighborhood.
Now, after nine years of transforming locally sourced foods into an always-enticing array of new menu choices—and helping to transform Frog Hollow into a community of new strength and possibility—Firebox has chosen one of the region's rising young executive chefs, Anthony J. Camilleri, to shape its menus and its growing role in the community.
"We are thrilled because Tony is not only a superstar in the kitchen, as his extraordinary experience indicates," says Cary Wheaton, executive director of Billings Forge Community Works. "He is the perfect choice for this role at this time. He stands for everything we are and hope to be."
Appropriately "locally grown," Camilleri, who assumed his duties last week, was raised in Hartford's South End, learning the secrets of fine foods from his grandmother Amelia as a young boy. "She'd let me turn the meatballs, she'd always have a pot of sauce cooking, she'd always be making meals for everyone. The kitchen was where we all gathered, and it's where I fell in love with food," he says.
Only 39, Camilleri has already logged a lifetime of experience learning from distinguished chefs in the region's finest kitchens. He most recently served as Executive Chef with Billy Grant Restaurant group and Rizzuto’s, as well as operating his own restaurant, Amelia’s in Simsbury, which he named after his grandmother.
"I loved her, I'd fix things and do yard work for her and, mostly, I'd spend time with her in the kitchen," Camilleri adds. "But I never thought it'd lead to all of this."
Starting as a line cook at 16, Camilleri soon realized that 14 or even 16 hours in the kitchen brought perfect fulfillment. "Searing a beautiful piece of halibut just right or resting a duck breast so it's a perfect medium rare, that's what I love, that's why I never look at the clock," he says.
But for all Camilleri has planned for Firebox: "I want it to be fun, I want it to be full of life, I want our customers to keep experiencing new flavors and new surprises," he has as much planned for Frog Hollow, its residents and many others.
He intends to expand his past efforts to teach local school children to cook and eat healthy food, to continue volunteering to prepare meals for cancer patients and their families, to continue teaching kitchen skills to people in the community, to begin "old-style Italian and Latin festivals in the neighborhood with booths and food and music" and to begin "interactive cooking classes and themed events so people can live healthier and eat healthier."
Those plans are in keeping with Firebox, its home at Billings Forge, and the vision of The Melville Charitable Trust when it sparked redevelopment in Frog Hollow by investing in both. Since Firebox’s founding in 2007 by the Trust, its commitment has always been to serve extraordinary food and to bring jobs, investment, and opportunity to Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood. Firebox’s profits support Billings Forge Community Works, which has become a driving force for community participation and empowerment.
Camilleri says he chose to join Firebox because, "It already has a great reputation. They had a vision, they stuck with it and they've made it happen. Now I'm ready. I've already put together 150 new menu ideas."
He and Firebox general manager, Jennifer Holcomb, worked closely together while she was the bar manager at Rizzuto’s in West Hartford before coming to Firebox. “I am excited to see what Tony can bring to Firebox. We have a great working relationship and I look forward to taking Firebox to a new level as a team.”
Wheaton says Firebox has been fortunate, since its opening, to always have expert chefs supervising its kitchen. “Our most recent chef, Ed Jones III, has continued that string of talent and creativity. Now, Tony will make Firebox blossom into all it can be,” Wheaton explains.
Camilleri has already met with the staff, both the front and back of the house, and is confident, "We will share the vision and all understand what we're doing and why."
"My goal," he says, "is not to simply take Firebox to the next level, but several levels after that. When you come to Firebox, you will be a guest in my house. I want you to have a great time. I want you to be happy."