Felice & Friends

DINE and Destinations - - VATICANO -

“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.”

…Sylvester Stallone

…Pamela An­der­son

… and Mick Jag­ger

Felice with Sophia Loren

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