Born and raised in East Boston, Tony Messina spent countless hours in his grandparent’s kitchen cooking elaborate Italian feasts as a young boy, and has been a fixture on the line in Boston restaurants since he began working as a caterer and cook at fourteen. After a stint shucking oysters and mixing drinks at Legal Sea Foods, Tony joined the team at Michael Schlow’s newly opened Alta Strada, where he pulled double duty as a line cook and head server, learning the ins and outs of the restaurant world.
In 2009, Tony decided to formalize his culinary training and attend the Cambridge Culinary School. During this time, he staged at some of the best restaurants in Boston, including Radius, Hamersley’s Bistro, Salts, No. 9 Park, and Clio. He graduated as valedictorian of his class and returned to Alta Strada as Sous Chef. The food at Alta Strada really spoke to Tony’s heritage – simple, clean Italian food using only the best ingredients.
When Tony heard that Barbara Lynch would be opening a true fine dining restaurant in Boston, he was eager to be a part of the opening and hone his appreciation of haute cuisine. In 2010, he joined the opening team of Menton as Chef de Partie. The food was concise allowing the very few ingredients on the plate to truly shine.
Long a fan of Japanese cuisine and its nuanced artistry, Tony began his search to find the best sushi restaurant in Boston. He heard time and time again that AKA Bistro was pushing the boundaries of traditional sashimi. He called Chef/Owner Chris Chung (an alumnus of Uni Sashimi Bar) and asked if he had any openings. He joined the team as Chris’ Sashimi Assistant in 2011, eventually becoming the Assistant Sashimi Chef himself. At AKA Bistro, there were no limits to what sashimi could be, drawing inspiration from France, Italy, Spain, and even America.
Tony’s next move brought him to Ken Oringer’s Uni Sashimi Bar, where he was named Sashimi Chef in September 2012. There he borrowed from cultures around the world to create dishes like hisDuet of Hamachi, which incorporates modern techniques, Japanese ingredients, and Mediterranean influence (the loin is paired with red ginger, candied jalapenos and banana glass, while the toro is matched with truffle vinaigrette and pork belly croutons).
In 2016, the intimate sashimi bar expanded into the former Clio space to become a full-scale Japanese restaurant serving inventive Asian cuisine. The menu highlights fresh seafood, with innovative sashimi and sushi offerings, and utilizes exciting flavors and ingredients in street food-inspired dishes. With the expansion of UNI, Tony took on the role of Executive Chef and Partner alongside Owner Ken Oringer. In 2018, Tony was honored by Boston magazine as the city’s “Best Outstanding Chef” in their annual Best of Boston issue. In May 2019, the James Beard Foundation named him"Best Chef: Northeast" at the annual James Beard Awards ceremony.Tony was a semifinalist in 2017 and a nominee in 2018 in the same category.