“I’m still trying to digest everything that’s going on,” says Fortina’s Christian Petroni during a rare gap in his chaotic schedule. “I’m trying to make sure that all my responsibilities are fulfilled, and there are a lot of responsibilities these days.”
He’s not kidding. Last year’s win on season 14 of Food Network Star catapulted his big personality into the national spotlight. While a standalone series has not been announced, a grueling filming schedule sees Petroni flying back and forth between New York and Los Angeles for judging spots and other appearances on Food Network. A meal kit, Fortina at Home, which launched in February with Petroni’s silky paccheri alla vodka and veal meatballs, is eyeing a national rollout. At home, he’s making time for his almost-2-year-old son, Beau, and a daughter on the way. Oh, and there are still the five locations of Fortina, including three in Westchester, that have only ballooned in popularity as Petroni’s star has risen.
“The restaurants are what got us here. They’re our babies, and I couldn’t stand to have them fall by the wayside. It’s too important.”
Fortina opened in Armonk in 2013, followed by locations in Rye Brook and Yonkers, as well as Stamford and Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market Hall. An ode to the Italian food Petroni grew up with in the Bronx and the nostalgia it creates, the menu runs the gamut from nonna-style fried meatballs and a chef-improved chicken parm to elegant wood-fired carrots with walnut crema and a brown-butter rib-eye.
“We’re so blessed to have been able to make food that people really identify with, that scratches an itch, tugs at a heartstring, or just rekindles a great memory,” says Petroni. “Those are things that, on a Tuesday afternoon at their desks, makes people say, ‘You know what I could really go for? Some Fortina fried meatballs.’”
As for what’s coming up, Petroni is somewhat tight-lipped. (“They’re called NDAs [nondisclosure agreements], and they own me,” he quips.) But neglecting the restaurants for his star-studded career will never be an option. “I’m in three to five restaurants every day. I work out of my restaurants,” he promises. “The restaurants are what got us here. They’re our babies, and I couldn’t stand to have them fall by the wayside. It’s too important.”