Felice & Friends
“TO HAVE AN ITALIAN restaurant, you must be Italian,” says Felice Vacca, proprietor of Vaticano. Born in Rome, he dreamed that one day he would be an actor and work at the renowned Cinecittà Studios. The black and white movies he watched at the local cinema that starred Mastroianni, De Sicca and Loren were his obsession. At the age of nine, Sophia Loren was Felice’s first love.
Raised in a large Italian family, he lived with his grandparents on their farm. They worked the land for their sustenance and it was there that he discovered his second love, his love of food. “When I went to the store,” he says, “it was only for salt or sugar.” Mama worked as a chef in one of the big hotels in Rome and Felice went to help. His older sister Antonella ran a small restaurant in Rome, too, “and so,” he says, “I began to work in restaurants.”
These became the signposts in the life of Felice Vacca: Family. Food. Film.
Arriving in Canada with one penny and one suitcase, his cooking, his affable personality and his engaging smile began to attract a huge following from international film stars. A television show was created: Felice and Friends.
Vaticano became his labour of love and an overnight success. Felice retained the philosophy of his grandparent’s farm. Ninety percent of everything served is made by hand in the kitchen. His affection for his customers is obvious. “You come here, you can have anything you want,” he proclaims. “No waiter goes back to the chef to ask if it’s possible, the answer at the table is yes.” His large menu of produce, fish and meats are fresh and made to order. “Whatever way the customer likes, or whatever diet or taste they have.” A daily Cassarola of scallops, mussels, clams, calamari, jumbo tiger shrimp and scampi in white wine sauce, bistecca with porcini mushrooms, and homemade ravioli stuffed with chestnut and tossed with black truffle, fly out of the kitchen. Is there a secret to his success? “Don’t try to cheat. Today everyone is well educated about food and wine. The minute you try to cheat your customers and serve less than the best quality, you are out.”
We’ve seen many changes in Yorkville over the years, but Vaticano is a constant. Locals and tourists alike appreciate Felice’s true Italian palate and style.
One day, fate tossed him a gift. Sophia Loren walked into Vaticano. Felice, himself, cooked for her. Yes, dreams do come true. Family. Food. Film. Hanging on the wall opposite his photograph with her is recognition by his peers: the William Ashley Silver Service Award.
“This is my beautiful life in Canada,” he says. “I worked hard and I got even more back.”
… and Mick Jagger
Felice with Sophia Loren