November 19, 2009
With Love Letters: Chef Marc Vetri Dishes on His Latest Restaurant Project, Sunday Excursions to Chester County, and His Favorite Kind of Tastykake
Welcome back to our Q&A series on uwishunu called “With Love Letters,” in which our With Love Philadelphia campaign interviews notable Philadelphians in order to learn more about their relationship with the city and why they love it here.
Next up is Chef Marc Vetri.
Note: links were added to the interview during editing.
Marc Vetri is the James Beard Award-winning Chef and Owner of two of Philadelphia’s most highly regarded restaurants, Vetri and Osteria. This winter he will open his third restaurant, Amis, a Roman-style neighborhood trattoria in Washington Square West.
Chef Vetri knows Philadelphia â€” he grew up just outside the city in Abington, Montgomery County and spent many weekends as a child cooking with his Sicilian grandmother in her South Philadelphia home. He then spent four years in University City while attending Drexel before traveling to Italy to train as a chef.
When he returned to Philadelphia, he set about to open his own restaurant, which he did to rave reviews in 1998. By 1999, he was named one of ten “Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine Magazine. In 2005, Vetri won the prestigious James Beard Award for “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.” In 2007, Chef Vetri opened his second restaurant, Osteria, also to rave reviews. And in 2008, he published his long-awaited debut cookbook, Il Viaggio Di Vetri.
Today, Chef Vetri is working on his latest venture, Amis, a restaurant that he promises will be lively, fun and inviting â€” the perfect place for “amis” or “friends” to get together.
The “With Love Letters” Q&A:
With Love: Hi Chef, Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. Ok, let’s start with a few warm-up questions. Be honest: have you ever run up the Rocky Steps?
Marc Vetri: Of course.
With Love: Iconic Philly snack preference â€” a Philadelphia soft pretzel or a Tastykake?
Vetri: Tastycake… Butterscotch Krimpets to be exact.
With Love: How about the Philly cheesesteak vs. the roast pork sandwich vs. an authentic Philly hoagie â€” which do you prefer?
Vetri: Genoâ€™s, wiz wit.
With Love: Wiz wit all the way…
Ok, You grew up just outside the city and went to college in University City, so youâ€™ve been around Philadelphia for a while now. How have you seen it change and grow? And what excites you about Philadelphia as a restaurant/food town today?
Vetri: Philly has really become a destination place. When I went to Drexel, it was just that city between Washington and New York. Over the last 20 years, it has become an epicenter for culture, the arts and food and wine. The restaurant scene has exploded within the last 10 years. We have so many great chefs and restaurants popping up in all areas. I love that there are so many neighborhoods and that the scene keeps growing.
With Love: Speaking of neighborhoods, we know you spent some quality time as a youth in South Philadelphia learning to cook with your Sicilian grandmother â€” are there specific influences from those early days in South Philly that you retain in your cooking today?
Vetri: I would say those influences are more about the philosophy of my cooking than any specific style. For me, an evening out revolves around family and friends, that’s what sticks with me about those days. Sitting around a big table, laughing, talking and eating great food.
With Love: Weâ€™ve also read that you try to use local ingredients in your kitchen as much as possible. Why are local ingredients so important to your cooking philosophy?
Vetri: I think it’s important to make the most use of the land around you and support the efforts of farmers in the area. It keeps the cycle going. Anytime you can substitute a locally farmed product from an industrial farmed product, you’re doing the environment a favor, you’re creating jobs and you’re assisting your community. It’s really that simple.
With Love: Your next project, Amis, is going to be a Roman-style neighborhood trattoria in Washington Square West. Will simplicity and local ingredients be prevalent themes there as well?
Vetri: Absolutely, great Italian food is always about ingredients and simplicity, it’s really the definition of it.
With Love: Sounds delicious. Ok, when youâ€™re not working on your next project or at your own restaurants, where are some of your other favorite places to eat in Philadelphia? Any under-the-radar neighborhood gems?
Vetri: I always love to go Amada in old city. Morimoto is a favorite when we’re in the mood for sushi. Zahav is so original and always great. There are so many great places I wouldn’t know when to stop listing. Meme, Bibou, Xochitl, Blackfish… I mean the list could just go on forever!
With Love: You’re right, the list could go on and on… but that’s a problem that we’re happy to have.
Below we find out where Chef Vetri likes to picnic, where he goes to satisfy a pho craving, and what new addition at Osteria will give you front-row access to all the action in the kitchen…
With Love: Is there a specific dish in Philadelphia that you are really craving right now?
Vetri: Right now, it’s raining and a bit chilly, so I’m craving soup (#11) at Pho 75 on Washington Ave.
With Love: Ok, what about when you host friends and family from out-of-town, where do you like to take them? And what about for children â€” what are some of your favorite ways to entertain your kids in Philadelphia?
Vetri: Again, just too many things to list. Our favorite is probably the Please Touch Museum. We like to have picnics outside the Art Museum. Longwood Gardens (and lunch at Talula’s Table) is a perfect Sunday.
With Love: Are you especially hot on any one Philly neighborhood right now, where you like to visit for mini walking tours and unique Philly experiences?
Vetri: Old City is probably the best walking tour in Philly. It really tells the Philadelphia Story all within a couple blocks.
With Love: Agreed, it’s amazing to see the excellent shopping and dining coexist so seamlessly with centuries-old history…
Ok, can you share a piece of news about your restaurants that our readers might not be aware of?
Vetri: About nine months ago we built this great 8 ft by 5 ft butcher block table in the kitchen at Osteria. We do cooking classes there, wine classes, host chefs and wine makers from all over the world and also have it available for private events and dinners. It’s really a great addition to what we already offer at Osteria.
With Love: Ok, last question: how has Philadelphia shown you love? What do you most appreciate about the city?
Vetri: Philadelphia really shows me too much love. I’m completely overwhelmed how it has gotten behind my restaurants and supported me throughout the years. It’s just so great to be a part of the restaurant community and watch it grow year after year.
With Love: Chef Vetri, thank you so much for taking the time â€” it has been a true pleasure. Congratulations on all of your success and keep up the great work.
Also, best of luck with the opening of your third restaurant, Amis, coming this winter â€” we canâ€™t wait to visit!