CAI’s Chef Stephen Latona Competes on CNBC’s ‘Restaurant Startup’

Chef Stephen Latona. Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Chef Stephen Latona. Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Chef Stephen Latona, who teaches at Montgomery County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) in Lansdale, will be competing as one of 20 restaurant entrepreneurs on Season Two of “Restaurant Startup.” The show airs on CNBC Tuesday evenings at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Latona and his business partner Mark Bellini are owners of Smoke Kitchen—a culinary enterprise that features wood-fired rotisserie chicken. Their dishes highlight the use of fresh, locally grown vegetables and free-range chicken. The episode featuring Smoke Kitchen is scheduled to air Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.

“It’s exciting and a great opportunity to have Smoke Kitchen selected as one of the 20 competing restaurants,” says Latona, who teaches several classes at CAI, including the Retail Operations class where students learn about operating a business.

A graduate of The Restaurant School in Philadelphia, Latona has worked in variety of food service sectors in the industry, including fine dining restaurants, catering and food styling. He has held a variety of chef positions and has worked in France, New York City and some of the top restaurants in Philadelphia. Latona also has worked with some of the premier catering companies in the suburban Philadelphia area and worked on a national cable television show coordinating all the food styling.

Latona has been teaching at the CAI since 2013, starting as an adjunct instructor and now as a full-time instructor. Prior to teaching at the CAI, he taught at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia for almost a decade.

Bellini teaches as a chef instructor at Star Career Academy in Philadelphia and Sur La Table in King of Prussia. He has more than 30 years of extensive experience in restaurants, catering and retail marketing. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Bellini has held the Executive Chef position at Collegeville Inn and Marketplace and Queen of Hearts Gourmet Market and Catering. In addition, Mark has also been Sous Chef for Frog/Commissary Catering in Philadelphia, Sheraton Valley Forge and Blair Mill Inn in Horsham, Pa.

“Who doesn’t love chicken, was a thought we had, and we love wood-fired cooking so the rotisserie idea was conceived,” said Latona. Their goal is to create a singular great item prepared from scratch using local product and crafted with care and an upscale mentality.

“Restaurant Startup” features restaurateur and TV personality Joe Bastianich and chef and restaurateur Tim Love who vie to invest their own money in restaurant concepts they believe could make them millions. Each week, two teams are invited to pitch their food ideas to the investors. Under high-pressure questioning, each team tries to convince Bastianich and Love that theirs is a concept worth backing. The chosen team is given the keys to a working restaurant on trendy Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. They get 36 hours and $7,500 to put their dream to the test and create a business plan; come up with a branding campaign; and, finally, launch their pop-up restaurant. Under the watchful eye of Bastianich and Love’s culinary consultant Antonia Lofaso, the aspiring food moguls open their doors, serve their food, and test their concept on the public. Based on the reaction from the diners, the quality of the branding, and the viability of the business plan, Bastianich and Love decide whether or not they will put their own money on the line to make someone’s dreams come true – and, hopefully, make big money for themselves.

For more information about Smoke Kitchen, visit or follow Smoke Kitchen on Twitter at @smokekitchen and like on Facebook at

To learn more about “Restaurant Startup,” visit: Facebook: and follow on Twitter: @RestStartup or  #RestaurantStartup.

About the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County

The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College is the region’s home for innovative, affordable culinary arts education and training. The Culinary Arts program includes both associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit culinary enthusiast and professional development course offerings. The 15,000-square-foot facility at 1400 Forty Foot Road, Lansdale, in Towamencin Township, is conveniently located near the Blue Route (I-476) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The facility features four state-of-the-art kitchens and equipment, three SMART classrooms and a retail bakery café, where students can develop real-world food preparation and customer service skills. For more information about the Culinary Arts Institute, visit or call 267-646-5970.

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~ by Diane VanDyke

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