Popular Wicked Monk executive chef Russell Titland, who whipped up elevated pub nosh like lobster mac-and-cheese and leapt on stage on a whim to croon with the bar’s house bands, died of cancer on Jan. 14. He was 47 years old.
The country music buff was a Culinary Institute of America alum with an illustrious resume who picked up flavors at some of the city’s top restaurants, but he spent the better part of his 30-year career in his beloved Bay Ridge, creating tastebud-tinglers and specialty menus at neighborhood institutions such as Griswold’s Pub, Chadwick’s, and the Monk on Third Avenue.
Titland came aboard the lounge and restaurant, designed to look like a cathedral with stained-glass and pew-type seating, three years ago when it moved to the old Bally Bunion location between 95th and 96th streets. The haute hash slinger quickly put the Monk on the map with uniquely flavored comfort foods, such as Guinness-braised short ribs, reuben spring rolls stuffed with corned beef and cabbage, and Dublin crab cakes that made it onto a television cooking show.
Patrons appreciated the finger-licking fare.
“Russell’s food was the best when you were looking for something different in Bay Ridge,” said Laura Cangiano, an ad sales representative for Community News Group who often drops by the pub for mini shepherd’s pies and Gaelic steak.
A dyed-in-the-wool Mets fan, Russell was also a smorgasbord of knowledge outside the kitchen with an encyclopedic memory for local lore, the Monk’s general manager recalled.
“Whenever anybody wanted to find out about a place in the neighborhood, they would ask Russell, and he would know exactly what block it was on,” said Billy DeLuca. “He really touched everybody he worked or came into contact with.”
Titland was inspired to attend the Culinary Institute of Arts — the alma mater of celebrity chef Bobby Flay — after landing his first gig at the now-defunct Grisworld’s, impressing owner Bill Eisenhardt.
“Russell began his career working for us,” Eisenhardt said. “He was a creative and talented chef who loved the food industry, and a good friend who will be missed very much.”
Titland continued working at the Monk until about three months ago, when he began hospice care, leaving co-workers with food for thought.
“Russell put up an amazing fight,” said DeLuca. “He was a super-strong man who will live on through his incredible food.”
Russell Titland is survived by his parents and a brother.
His wake will be held Jan. 18 at Colonial Funeral Home on Staten Island (2819 Hylan Blvd. between Reno Avenue and Tysens Lane), 7–9 pm. He will be laid to rest at Ocean View Cemetery on Staten Island.