When James Tolento moved to Louisiana for college to study architecture, he quickly discovered that the hospitality industry, where he worked to finance his education, was his real passion. After stints in multiple Southern restaurants, he decided to return home, after learning that his father purchased a restaurant in North Providence, to run his own kitchen. We talked about Cajun cooking, family recipes and how to get along with family when you work together.
Did someone inspire your passion for cooking?
My biggest inspiration for cooking would have to be my father, Thomas. Since I was little he has been teaching me how to cook different meals, from scrambled eggs to his famous Stuffed Chicken we serve in the restaurant. I also have to thank my grandmother Mary and my mother Patricia, from whom I learned our family baking recipes and Italian dishes.
What dish at Tolento’s epitomizes Cajun cuisine?
Simple: The Chicken and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya. It’s a Cajun Staple, a unique twist of rice, meats, vegetables and spices. It’s on our menu every day we’re open and every other weekend I switch between Gumbo or Etouffee, two major Creole staples.
Tell me about how you’ve filled in the niche for Cajun food in RI.
I couldn’t believe how many people come in and tell me they’ve traveled to, lived in or know someone from Louisiana. I never knew there were this many people that love Cajun food. Seeing first hand how much of the jambalaya sells is remarkable.
What’s a non-Cajun must-try dish at Tolento’s?
My fathers Specialty Stuffed Chicken Breast filled with hot sausage, mozzarella cheese, pulled chicken and pistachio nuts. If you don’t want the full meal, try the Tolento’s Specialty Eggrolls. If you’re allergic to nuts, our Prime Rib has been put up against the best.
Can you tell me more about the Chef’s Table?
Guests that have received our exclusive seven course meal were beyond ecstatic about their experience. The Chef’s Table is, a four to five seat table with an exclusive dinner prepared to that group’s liking. It’s completely overfilling and guests have loved every minute of it. I actually cook and bring out the dishes myself, interact with the guests and make the whole experience seem as if you were royalty.
What are some challenges you face working with family?
Talk about the biggest challenge of our lives! My father and I undoubtedly get into arguments – it’s family love – but we focus on the bigger picture of why we are here. We are here for my godchild Gavin, my brother’s son, so he can have a bright future. And we want to give a different dining experience to our guests with our service and by enjoying fresh cooked American, Cajun and Italian dishes.
Tolento’s Ice House Grille
1460 Mineral Spring Avenue North Providence