Chef Profile: Gina Stanley

Chef/owner, the Art Cliff Diner, Vineyard Haven


When did you fall in love with food and cooking?

I am going to say I fell in love with eating. I remember I was 4, in our apartment — my mom was always baking. I would stand on a chair, stick my hand in the jar of Crisco, then dip my finger into sugar.

Who was your biggest influence?

Definitely my mom; she was Italian, she taught baking at the local school. She was always cooking for everybody. Everything was always about food; we would go to my grandparents, and I want to say it was the typical “Godfather” Italian scene with food and family.

When did you decide to become a chef?

Not until I was about in my early twenties. I was going to go to fashion design school, and then I was taking art classes at the local college. I was lost, and not sure of what I wanted to do. I was working for a caterer weekends, and I was kind of always cooking anyway. Cooking was the first thing I got a real compliment for. That never happened growing up. I like working in a kitchen, it seems more my style, not getting all dolled up every day. I felt like myself. I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America; I was one of only two girls in my class. I graduated in my mid-twenties and began my life in the food business.

How and why did you decide to buy the Art Cliff?

I was living in Washington, D.C., and had made some money on the stock market. I figured I better do something with it so I wouldn’t just spend it. I was looking on a website on Nantucket, and somehow found the Art Cliff for sale. I was thinking, I don’t know where the Art Cliff is — I had spent four summers on Nantucket, I’d never heard of it. They told me it was on the Vineyard. I didn’t know anything about the Vineyard, but I loved the Art Cliff building; I thought it was the cutest little building, so I decided to make the trip to see it. I had looked at photos of the inside of the building, and began visualizing decorating it. On the drive up from Washington, I stopped at an antique store in New Bedford and bought about 200 Christmas balls to decorate the diner. When I got there, there was water all over the floor, and it smelled like rot. It was a mess, but I loved it and saw the possibilities.

What season do you like best on the Vineyard?

Summer, and I love August; I know that sounds crazy, but I love the high energy. Of course, I do love fall too because you finally get to see everyone, but I really love summer. 

Do you have a favorite holiday?

I guess it’s Christmas; we used to make a big fish dinner Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, ravioli, sausage, mozzarella — you know, the big Italian feast. My mom always went crazy on Christmas — she loved decorating for all holidays, not just Christmas. On Halloween, she decorated our house so much, CNN used to come and film our home. She was really creative. Now that my mom has passed, and with the diner, it is harder to leave. The Island is busy that last week of the year. I also have a client I have cooked Christmas for for the past six years.

What would be your favorite holiday food?

Macaroni — you know, pasta with gravy, red sauce, super simple, with lots of Reggiano Parmesan.