Paolo Montana – Surviving a Broken Life

People always want to know who is cooking for them, what’s their hosts background.
Paolo was always ashamed of his sad, loveless childhood. As he turns 50, next month, he is starting to tell his story.

The Platform Magazine – featured Paolo and his story in this months issue.

Glasgow, Scotland 1968, Paolo was left in the street by his troubled single mother at age 4, with his older sister of 5 and younger sister of 2, all three were orphaned.
They knew only that their dad was Italian and mother Scottish.
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Paolo with his older sister Sheila

They were taken to a convent to live. Years later it was sued for years of horrific abuse and cruelty to children.
Paolo and his sisters were one of those children.

On Christmas Day the orphans were locked in a room, while the children who had parents spent time with them. Life was sad, loveless and full of intense cruely, both physical and mental.
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Paolo with his younger sister Anita

A drop out at school, the one class he excelled at was the cooking class, where whatever he made was excellent. His teacher, seeing he was lost and school was not for him, told him to get a job at a restaurant where she knew the owner. At last Paolo found a home.

His new home, his new family, was the world of restaurants where he worked 16 hour days, 6 days a week and loved every minute.

Being he was only 15, when he arrived at this high end Italian restaurant, he was moved from post to post. First the kitchen cleaning fish and other meanial tasks, then a sous chef, then the coffee station to waiter. By age 24 he became the GM/Executive Chef of another fine dining Italian restaurant. Old school dining, dinner dance, flambe, carving at the table was a nightly thing. By the age of 30 he had worked for 15 years,16 hours a day, 6 days a week, it was brutal.
It still felt like the best home he had ever had.

Paolo found another home when he got married at 17 and went on to have 2 children, Paul and Giselle.

However it was hard to shake off the past, being from the streets of Glasgow, a really tough city in the 1970s + 1980s, he was an active criminal, while working in restaurants and running with the wrong crowd. Life closed in on him and he had to go into hiding for a year . This was a very dark period for him, his 1st wife and 2 young children.
His home life crumbled, at age 33 he was on his own again, albeit with 2 young children to take care of.
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Glasgow in the 1970s + 80s, was a tough city

He emerged a year later, when the dust had settled, to manage the restaurant that would change his life.

Working for the famous Eligio Moretti of Gleneagles fame would have been a mile stone by its self but it was here that he would meet the woman that would change the direction of his life. Adriana Moretti, having been brought up by a strong Italian Father and an even stronger Scottish mother, knew what hard work and commitment was. Seeing her dads best qualities in Paolo, they fell in love and each of them changed the others destiny.

With the complications of romancing the bosses daughter, Paolo moved on to be the GM/Executive Chef of a high end country club hotel – here he over hauled a broken system and in 1 year had turned it into a money maker. Extravagant weddings and functions were the main business, along with the bedrooms and the bistro, it was 24-7 and all consuming. After 3 years Paolo was in the process of buying the hotel – at the last minute the owner asked for more money, Paolo was forced to walk away. He went home to Adriana, who announced ‘We are going to NYC’ – after 2 phone calls and a bottle of champagne – their destiny changed.

Upon arrival in NYC 1999, Paolo was getting some pizza while Adriana walked slowly down the street only to stop at what she thought was an old book store, ‘I looked in the window saw this beautiful restaurant,’ she told Paolo to ask if they needed a waiter and that was that. Starting as a waiter in Da Umberto, for the beloved Umberto Assanti, Paolo brought his old school background to this waining Tuscan restaurant. After 1 year he was the GM and quickly got into the kitchen to show Assanti his brilliance there, he also became the Executive Chef. He would stay at Da Umberto for 10 years learning the differences and ultimately the similarities of running a restaurant across the pond.
Paolo always wanted to open his own place though, soon that time would come.
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Paolo cooking in incognito

General frustrations of not being his own boss would drive Paolo to make the huge step of owning his own place. He knew he wanted to stay in the Chelsea area, not as competition to Da Umberto, his restaurant would be more casual, but because he saw what a wonderful neighborhood it is.

In July 2011 incognito opened, to cut costs, Paolo managed the buildout and learned so much of the arduous task of building something in NYC. Was it difficult hell yes – was it worth it – of course. Now the little boy who rose from nothing was in NYC, with the love of his life and his very own restaurant.
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Paolo is incognito

Incognito is the accumulation of all those years of hard graft and expertise. It is fine, yet casual dining. Mixing modern concepts with tried and true classics. Incognito is an oasis of quality, delicious food, with relaxing, elegant, sumptuous decor.
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Paolo and wife Adriana 19 years on

Paolo spends as much time as possible with his children (who live in Scotland) and is now a proud grandad. IMG_4650
Paolo with daughter Giselle, son Paul, granson Braiden & daughter inlaw Natasha in the Hamptons

At 50 his story is long from over (hopefully), being ‘life’ is the crisis we all have in common, Paolo does not wallow in self pity. His victory is managing his demons while building a world that is an inspiration to anyone who is trying to overcome a broken life – it can be done.