Philly-Raised Chef Embraces South Jersey: ‘It Has Such a Good Feeling’

Chef Michael DeLone crossed the Delaware to take over his culinary mentor’s restaurant, Nunzio in Collingswood.

Plate of gnocchi
Chef Michael DeLone's housemade gnocchi dish at Nunzio in Collingswood. Photo courtesy of Food Shelter

From a young age, Michael DeLone was on track to become a chef.

At 15, he began working at a restaurant in Manayunk, a neighborhood outside Philadelphia. Starting as a food runner, DeLone eventually moved up to the salad station. That seemingly simple step gave him “the drive to want to do it” for life.

“You learn 95 percent of what you need to know as a chef actually working in a kitchen,” says DeLone, who’s also a graduate of the Art Institute in Philadelphia.

After a long career in Philly, DeLone crossed the Delaware to Collingswood in 2021. There he reconnected with one of his culinary school mentors, chef Nunzio Patruno, who was looking to sell his restaurant, Nunzio. DeLone refers to it as a “positive opportunity that came out of the pandemic.”

Originally, DeLone kept Nunzio’s name and menu. In March of last year, he began introducing his own style of cooking. The restaurant now represents a fusion of both chefs’ techniques. As he continues to put more of his own stamp on the eatery, DeLone plans to renovate and rename it later this year.

Speaking of Collingswood, DeLone says, “It’s such a good place, and has such a good feeling to it. The support you get from the people here is amazing.”

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At age 15, what was the most important thing you learned about the industry?
Michael DeLone: It was extremely stressful, and the restaurant I was working in was very high-volume. The team environment is what got me through. Everyone was always looking out for each other and [served as] a crutch for someone young like me. I was blessed to have those people around me.

Were you familiar with NJ dining before leaving Philadelphia?
I always knew Collingswood. Chef Nunzio really brought a different style and scene to this area. I knew it was an area that was growing and was well supported by the neighborhood. It made me want to make the jump out of the city.

Have you noticed any differences in Jersey versus Philly patrons?
Every restaurant feels different. The restaurants and people here seem to stick around. The industry is strong in Jersey, and that’s what I really like about it.

Tell us about how you approached the menu when you took over Nunzio.
Nunzio’s name is on the front window, and people know that. We kept the name because chef Nunzio was such a big part of my career. My opening menu was still his, but more in my style—and it just didn’t work. Introducing new food and a new chef is an uphill battle. In March 2022, I began my own style of cooking, and introduced more seasonal, fresh ingredients, house-made bread and desserts, that type of thing. It continued to be hard, but it has finally begun catching on, and people are familiar with who I am.

Do you have a favorite dish?
Octopus has become one of my favorites. Everyone has it on their menu, but it still has to be done well. Homemade pasta is always fun, and doing specialty things like that.

What have you enjoyed most about the Jersey scene?
The support. I love the events happening over here, like farmers’ markets, street fairs and art festivals. Being part of the community can be hard when working in the city. [Collingswood] is such a fun environment to be part of. It’s always bustling, and there are always people around.

What does it mean to you to have your own restaurant?
It’s full circle. Chef Nunzio helped me when I was young and gave me the opportunity to have my own place. It’s a blessing. I’m so thankful for the great staff I have, too. It’s only been a little over a year since opening, and we are only getting better.

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