“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
For many, the quote is a cliché that’s mostly elusive. But for Phil Hambleton, executive chef at Big Daddy’s Barbeque restaurant in Massapequa, it’s his reality.
“For me, cooking has always come easy and it’s something I’ve never had to really think about,” says Hambleton, who has been lighting up the kitchen and diners’ palettes since age 13, having learned to cook by watching his grandparents at home.
Before landing at Big Daddy’s nearly eight months ago, Hambleton had spent eight years as the executive chef at George Martin’s Strip Steak House in Great River. And before that, he had worked in restaurants up and down the East Coast from Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City to Tony Roma’s in Bayside.
“I’ve always pushed myself to learn new cooking styles and that’s what brought me to Big Daddy’s where I put a unique spin on smoked foods from pulled pork and beef to seafood,” Hambleton shares.
A seasoned team builder and supervisor, Hambleton is very hands-on when it comes to cooking.
“I’d never ask any of my staffers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” he says.
Recalling his long restaurant career, Hambleton, 48, says that he went to work early in the 1980s, starting at the very bottom in the food service business as first a dishwasher, then a salad guy, and then a sandwich maker.
“I really worked my way up, it just was a natural progression,” says Hambleton, who grew up on Long Beach Island in New Jersey and attended the Culinary Institute of America.
He adds that he was doing so well in the restaurant business that he was going to quit high school but a teacher encouraged him to go to culinary school and really learn his craft.
“This teacher saw something in me and wanted me to keep on going,” he says.
Hambleton’s love of cooking was also his path to success.
“I went from a D student to an A student after I enrolled in culinary school,” he explains.
When he landed at George Martin’s in 2010, Hambleton recalled he wasn’t really planning to come out to Long Island but he drove a friend to a job interview and the owner said he was looking for an executive chef.
“Long Island reminded me of where I grew up, on Long Beach Island, being near the Shore, the salt air,” he says. “I’ve got salt in my veins…I like the shore, the beach.”
“There are many different personalities in the restaurant business and they often clash, so it was important for me to try and find a place where I could hang my hat,” he says.
Looking for something different, Hambleton says that barbeque was the total other side of the spectrum for cuisine.
“I’ve smoked everything here at Big Daddys’ from watermelons to traditional pork and beef, fruit and veggies,” he says.
While planning for Mardi Gras, Hambleton says he arranged for boiled crawfish from Louisiana and a huge, traditional New Orleans-style buffet on Fat Tuesday complete with live music, finger foods, appetizers, shrimp, alligator and pulled pork.
Specialties at Big Daddy’s include an authentic New Orleans-style Sunday brunch featuring items such as Jambalaya omelettes, crab cake benedict and chicken and waffles. Plus, Hambleton says all desserts are made from scratch, such as bananas Foster, brownies and raspberry cheesecake.
All of which brings to mind another maxim, Laissez les bons temps rouler, a Cajun French saying that means, “Let the good times roll!”
Big Daddy’s is located at 1 Park Ln. in Massapequa. It can be reached at 516-799-8877 or bigdaddysny.com