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Interview with Oustanding Chef Award Nominee Marc Vetri

Anna Mowry

Anna Mowry

April 23, 2014


Marc Vetri is a nominee for the 2014 James Beard Award for Oustanding Chef

When Marc Vetri opened his eponymous restaurant on Philadelphia’s Spruce Street 15 years ago, he served spicy penne with tomatoes and capers, a daily risotto, and other dishes that might seem light years away from what we see on current modern Italian menus. But today's bucatini-and-budino world remains undeniably linked to his emphasis on quality over quantity. We spoke to the Outstanding Chef award nominee, whose seventh restaurant will open this year, for details about his forthcoming pasta book and his new obsession with wheat.


JBF: You celebrated Vetri's 15th anniversary last year. How has your experience with Vetri influenced how you open new concepts and maintain them?

MV: Vetri is its own thing. It can’t be reproduced in another restaurant. It’s way too personal, so I try to not compare any new project to it. It would be an impossible task to do that. Each concept has its own personality and we try and look at each one differently, while using our restaurant experience to make them all successful.

JBF: We read that you’re opening a new concept called in the Navy Yard. How is that coming along and what can we expect to see when it opens?

MV: It’s going to be called Lo Spiedo, which means “spit,” like a spit on a rotisserie. It’s looking like an early fall opening. It's going to have a huge 75-inch grill/rotisserie as a centerpiece for the restaurant, and all of our meats will be roasted or grilled on that. The theme will be lots of whole beasts cooked over wood, with great salads and side dishes to go along with them. And, of course, we will have some pastas. It’s going to be a fun, meat-centric restaurant, almost like an Italian grill.

JBF: What are some of your favorite cookbooks that you find yourself returning to again and again?

MV: I look at so many books. It’s hard to pinpoint one in particular. The one book I always use is a book from Italy called Le Ricette Regionali Italiane. We call it “the bible.” It’s one of my favorite books ever. Other than that, I have been very into Daniel Boulud’s new book. I love the way it describes so many old techniques and presentations. It's such a beautiful book, a real masterpiece.

JBF: Speaking of cookbooks, you're working on a new one called Mastering Pasta. How is that going? What kind of research have you been doing? Have you stumbled upon anything that was especially interesting or surprising?

MV: The journey for this new book has taken me places I never thought I would go. We learned so much doing research for the book. The big surprise was all that we learned about wheat, and about how underutilized it is in cooking today. I think wheat is the next big thing for cooks to embrace and cultivate more. Different varietals, different flavor profiles—that’s all untouched as of right now.

JBF: You wrote about that in the Huffington Post. What kind of flour do you use to make pasta in your restaurants? What brands of flour would you recommend to someone who wants to get serious about making pasta at home?

MV: There’s a lot more to this question than I could write in a little paragraph. We have recently started milling flour in the restaurant and we're playing around with different varieties to use for pasta. For a home cook, I would do as you do with fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish: source it locally. Try to find a miller in your area to freshly mill your flour. The flavor and functionality will be like nothing you've ever had.

JBF: Last question: what’s one specific technique or tip that anyone who wants to make pasta at home should know?

MV: When you're at home, just use your hands. Use them to mix, to roll, everything. You’ll learn so much about pasta-making when you’re not relying on machines. It will definitely up your game!

The 2014 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef is presented by All-Clad Metalcrafters.

Anna Mowry is senior editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.