About Chef James
Lauded for his work as the Executive Pastry Chef for the Michelin-starred restaurant Rouge Tomate, Chef James Distefano is among the country’s most accomplished health-conscious pastry chefs.
Blending seasonal ingredients with a skillful balance of textures, flavors and savory-sweet combinations, his signature desserts include: Bittersweet Chocolate Sphere with Malted Barley Gelato, Frangipane and Candied Almonds, Local Strawberry Soup with Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, Basil and Black Pepper, and Ile Flottante with Heirloom Citrus.
Distefano’s appreciation of quality ingredients was cultivated from an early age. As a young line cook in New Jersey, his skills were shaped by the abundance of fresh herbs and garden-picked produce at local restaurants. Upon taking his first job in Manhattan—under James Beard award-winning pastry chef Richard Leach at Park Avenue Café—Distefano gained an appreciation for seasonality, long before the farm-to-table trend had gone mainstream.
Three years later, Distefano further immersed himself in mindful cooking as a stagiare at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France.
Once back in NYC, Distefano continued to work alongside some of the industry’s leading pastry chefs—including Joe Murphy, the former Executive Pastry Chef of Jean Georges, who recommended Distefano for his first Executive Pastry Chef position at Blue Fin in NYC’s W Hotel. On the heels of that high volume experience, Distefano landed the Executive Pastry Chef position at David Burke & Donatella, known for its glamorous clientele and namesake celebrity chef.
Yet after ten years in the industry, Distefano was beginning to recognize the toll that his career was taking on his health. With two generations of heart conditions and quadruple bypass surgery in his family history, he knew that his own well being depended on restructuring his diet and lifestyle.
As a first step, Distefano returned to seasonal, produce-focused cooking at Harvest on Hudson, where he began to formulate the concepts that would define his career at Rouge Tomate.
Distefano first heard from Rouge Tomate Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman, it seemed like fate. Influenced by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Distefano was curious to see how he could introduce his growing interest in health with the refined tastes of his clientele. It didn’t take long for the restaurant’s innovative perspective to catch the eye of the city’s tastemakers, eventually gaining global recognition when Rouge earned a Michelin star.
Distefano’s work at Rouge Tomate was praised in New York Magazine, the NY Daily News, Bon Appétit and Dessert Professional, among other publications. In particular, critics applauded his work with alternative flours such as sorghum, millet and buckwheat, as well as his focus on fruit-based desserts.
After over six years at Rouge Tomate, Distefano shifted focus, sharing his unique pastry vision with the next generation of culinary leaders as a Chef Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Outside of ICE, he continues to collaborate with other nutritionally progressive food companies, including a recent collaboration with Juice Generation.
Regarding his philosophy and signature pastry style, Distefano notes, “At a certain point as a chef, you start to become aware of the impact of what you eat on your health, so the opportunity to work at Rouge Tomate was timely on both a personal and a professional level.