The Refrigerator Zone With Frank Constantino

What the dean of Monroe College’s Culinary Arts Department and executive chef of the college’s Dining Lab keeps in his fridge on an everyday basis.

What could you make for dinner from your current contents if, say, the in-laws show up unexpectedly? A huge salad using feta, marinated pickled peppers, Kalamata olives, and mixed greens from my garden. I have five acres of property in Warwick, New York, a half-acre of which is a small commercial use farm, but a tiny portion is for my family. Aside from lots of different produce, there are 21 laying hens—21 eggs per day.

Anything in there really old or of unknown origins? I made some tamari [a richer, thicker, less salty version of soy sauce] that’s been sitting since the winter. We used it a couple times but it didn’t come out quite right—I’ll have to go back to the drawing board. 

Item that would impress a foodie (Siberian caviar, for example)? Pearl Gold Dark Mushroom Soy Sauce and gochujang, a spicy-sweet red chili paste. My kids love this sweet chili paste, especially in vegetable curry dishes. I have three children and they all cook and are savvy in the kitchen—they see cooking as an important life skill so they can eat well. There’s DJ, 20, a Hunter College student who lives in Brooklyn and makes a mean Thai chili-glazed salmon; Jake, 14, who tends to the chickens and sells the eggs at $4 a dozen to a Polish woman who has a home business making pierogies and baked goods; and Frankie, 10, who has the most flair. 

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Rate your fridge from 1 (an ungodly mess) to 10 (I may have OCD). 

Six. My wife, Ilene [she’s the resident chef at Sur La Table in Nanuet, New York], and I do a lot of batch cooking on Sunday for the kids for the week, so with all the activity it’s hard to keep things too neat. 

Fussy about any staple being organic, fair trade, etc? Dairy has to be organic—we don’t want the hormones— so we buy Garelick brand. Also, we avoid anything with high-fructose corn syrup in it. 

Anything not allowed in your fridge? (Soda?) We don’t drink soda—unless we have a party or special meal. This past Sunday afternoon, we watched football and had a buffet. Everyone pitched in to make the food: rosemary wings with caramelized onions, fried calamari with sweet chili dipping sauce, Asian slaw, dumplings, plus Fanta orange, and Diet Coke. 

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Random/unusual items in the door shelves? Kikkoman Ponzu Sauce, Kelchner’s Horseradish, and La Fe Chipolte Hot Sauce. 

Most of the contents of your fridge are from what source? Bulk necessities are from ShopRite, specialty items from Fairway Market, grains like polenta, farro, and red lentils we get at Whole Foods.  

Are the Costantinos more carnivore or herbivore?  We eat lots of meat and fish but purchase as we need like it’s done more commonly in Europe. My wife and I had a restaurant eight years ago where I butchered chickens, rabbits, and ducks every two days. The taste is brighter if you cook with the freshest possible meat. Of course we are also a big veggie family too, as we grow lots of produce. In the fridge now is baby kale and cocozelle—green ribbed zucchini with a creamy interior. There are also 200 lbs of potatoes in my basement! 

What’s on top of the fridge? Breads: Arnold Sandwich Thins, Martin’s Dutch-Style Whole Wheat Slider Rolls, and bagels from Central Deli in Florida, NY. And I see blondies my wife makes. I’m sorry I looked up here—now I know they’re there and I’ll eat more than I should. Ten pounds of butter in those things. My motto at Monroe is ‘butta makes it betta.’

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