For Chef Jose Morales, the head chef at Piccolo Cantina Bay in Bayville, the American Dream is alive and well.
Now 63, Morales, who was born in El Salvador and grew up in Mexico, says he crossed the border illegally in 1979, settling in Texas for three years before moving to New York in 1981.
“I love this country; it opened its doors to me many years ago and allowed me to live my American Dream,” says Morales, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen before perfecting the art of cooking both authentic Mexican and Italian cuisines.
Morales recalls that originally his plan was to become an architect and design buildings, but after tasting his first Italian meal in the states more than 35 years ago, he decided to design meals instead.
“I fell in love with cooking,” he says. “To me, being a cook is like being an artist…you have to do it with your heart.”
Morales explains that before perfecting his craft at the Culinary Institute of America in Manhattan, like many other chefs, he started at the bottom, washing dishes and working his way up, cooking at various Mexican and Italian restaurants throughout New York, including Chateau Madrid in Manhattan.
He also worked at various venues in Nassau County before opening his first restaurant in 1991 in Jericho. That led to several others on Long Island including Café Jalisco in Glen Cove and Marcello’s Café in Bellmore.
In 2007, Morales opened La Cantina Bay with his family in Locust Valley to strong local reviews of the venue’s Mexican and Italian specialties. Piccolo Cantina Bay in Bayville is the most current version of the restaurant, which moved only a few blocks away.
Some of Morales’ authentic Mexican and Italian specialties include Spanish paella, pork chops, fajitas, chicken francese, and mussels Luciano.
Customers seem to think highly of Chef Morales and his cooking.
“The food is to die for,” Nick Carbuto wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “Couldn’t decide from a well-stocked menu. My wife and I chose from the specials for the day, stuffed pork chop and grilled swordfish! Out of this world! One would think that two genres of food can’t both be done well.”
Morales notes that the patrons in this part of town have good taste.
“We’re in a very good neighborhood and we have appreciative customers,” says Morales, who has nearly his entire family involved in the restaurant including his wife Elvia, his daughters, and his son. “Starting a family business is a good idea…it’s one thing that I would recommend to anyone thinking of starting a business: Do it with family.”
Morales, who volunteers his time helping local seniors in his area with errands, stresses that he is thankful for the opportunities he’s been given in life.
“I came here with dreams and ambitions and America opened its doors for me,” he says. “I am a proud immigrant and I’m thankful for the opportunity this country has given to me.”
Piccolo Cantina Bay is located at 18 a Bayville Ave. in Bayville. It can be reached at 516-802-3001.