Petit & Keet celebrated one year of being open not long ago. In that first year the service and cocktail side of the business was the shining star, and rightfully so, given the rock star front of house and bar team that was assembled. The food, however, has quietly been the foundation with a level of consistency and quality that every place strives for but rarely executes.
If you take a minute to get to know executive chef Steve Binotti, you will find that kitchen style reflects him perfectly. He is soft spoken, but full of confidence. Something rarely seen in a 20 something year old executive. Instead he quietly moves his kitchen along with the consistency and focus that usually comes with a more seasoned chef.
Given that, you would never guess this is Binotti’s first executive role. Binotti is a Chicago native who graduated from Kendall College and spent the first part of his career at David Burke’s Primehouse, which was one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country. He moved to Little Rock in 2016 and took a job at One Eleven.
“The move was about a girl, it is almost always about a girl when someone makes a move like that,” Binotti says. “I learned so much working under David Burke and how a world class kitchen should run. I miss Chicago, but I did marry the girl, so at least it was worth it.”
Binotti joined the opening team at Petit & Keet last year and quickly worked his way up the ladder until eventually being named executive earlier this year. The executive role is his first, but something he quickly and confidently settled into.
“I think everyone working in a kitchen hopes to get to this position at some point in their career,” Binotti explains. “I certainly got there quicker than I thought, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been preparing for it my whole career. Thankfully the transition is easy when you have legions like Jim Keet and Louis Petit mentoring you along the way.”
Petit & Keet’s menu is very small and requires a kitchen team to execute each item perfectly and consistently each time. It is a tall order for a young executive to manage a team that needs to function on such a high level. Binotti’s team never seems to miss a beat and enjoys high reviews because of it.
Along with the small menu, the creativity of the kitchen comes through in specials and ticketed dinners, many of which lead into some of the small incremental menu updates over time.
“I love that there are strong seasons in Little Rock that bring very distinct flavors. I especially love the proximity to the gulf and the fresh seafood it brings. That is not something we always had to work with in Chicago,” Binotti says. “It is great to work with and build specials around. Now that we are doing more wine dinners that gives me even more creative freedom to build dishes around. It is fun being able to pair fresh ingredients with specific wines and execute something not typically on our menu.”
Running the kitchen is something Binotti seems to excel at perfectly. At just 28 it will be fascinating to see how his career will grow with such a strong head start on handling the role. He is someone to keep an eye on over the next few years.