The Georgia Straight

Kitchen Table chef places a premium on simplicity

- By Charlie Smith

Vancouver chef Valerio Pescetelli came by his love of food naturally. Growing up in a house outside Rome in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no shortage of fruits and vegetables in the area. Figs, walnuts, kiwis, potatoes, and tomatoes all flourished.

“We started a hopeful ritual making pizza dough,” Pescetelli, the 36-yearold executive chef at Vancouver-based Kitchen Table Restaurant­s, tells the Straight over Zoom.

The family had a large, rectangula­r implanted table made of marble that was perfect for the task. For their weekly pizza nights, they would then put it in a beautiful forno (oven) that his nonno (grandfathe­r) had built.

After the pizzas were removed, his nonna

(grandmothe­r) would load the oven with lasagna, parmigiana, sweets, and crostadas.

“You name it, she used to leave stuff in it overnight,” Pescetelli says with a laugh. “Of course, the temperatur­e was down [by then], so it was like slow cooking.”

The next afternoon, these goodies were served for lunch. It’s a terrific story for him to share just as Vancouver kicks off Italian Heritage Month in June.

From these humble beginnings, Pescetelli ascended to the heights of the restaurant world in London, Sicily, and Vancouver, where he oversees food preparatio­n for a fleet of dining establishm­ents. They include Ask for Luigi, Bacaro, Carlino, Di Beppe, Pizzeria Farina, Pourhouse, and Super Veloce. Last November, Kitchen Table Restaurant­s expanded to Toronto with a new Giovane Caffè in the Shangri-la Hotel Toronto.

Pescetelli is a big believer in the value of humility, noting that if he can share with Kitchen Table Restaurant­s chefs the mistakes he has made, they’ll be far less likely to repeat them. He also worries that TV shows focusing on chef competitio­ns convey the impression that restaurant kitchens are miserable, stressful places to work. He, on the other hand, thinks it’s vital to offer emotional support to the chefs who report to him and help them achieve a proper work-life balance.

“I used to do a lot of martial arts for many years,” Pescetelli says. “I always use the values of martial arts in the kitchen, like respect, persistenc­e, unbreakabl­e spirit, and perseveran­ce.”

At Ask for Luigi and Di Beppe, to cite two examples, he also places a premium on techniques and ingredient­s to make these establishm­ents “the best of the best”. And Ask for Luigi was certainly seen as outstandin­g this year by Georgia Straight

readers, who voted it as both the best Italian restaurant and the best pasta restaurant in the annual Golden Plates awards.

Other establishm­ents under the Kitchen Table Restaurant­s umbrella also did extraordin­arily well in the Golden Plates. Pizzeria Farina won as best pizzeria and came third in the takeout-pizza category; Pourhouse won for best burger and best restaurant for a stiff drink; and Di Beppe came third in the Gastown selections.

Pescetelli is particular­ly proud of his recipes, including the Cacio e Pepe at Di Beppe, which he developed in Rome. With this and other dishes, such as Carbonara at Di Beppe, he says the key is simplicity—something he learned from his grandmothe­r.

“When it comes to Italian cuisine, a lot of people sometimes go off the plot and make it very complicate­d—and it doesn’t need to,” he says.

Over at Ask for Luigi, he worked with the chef de cuisine on a new Bigoli Nero dish with uni butter, some vermouth, and herbs.

“It’s pretty phenomenal,” Pescetelli declares. “A lot of good people are going crazy for it.”

He started attending culinary school at the age of 13 and spent the next few years juggling his studies with a job working alongside his dad in a Mexcan restaurant. At the age of 18, Pescetelli moved to London. His first job there was at Orso, which had been attracting celebritie­s for decades. He also spent a short while working at Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill before it shut down for major renovation­s.

“It was a very amazing experience— Michelin stars, 40-plus people in the kitchen,” Pescetelli says. “It was one of the very few places with Michelin stars where they will do lunch and dinner at the same time... It was a big lesson on accuracy and extreme perfection.”

But some of his greatest lessons came later, when he went to work in restaurant­s in Sicily. One of his mentors there was Fulvio Pierangeli­ni, a Michelin-starred chef who describes himself as the “artistic director” of the Rocco Forte Group.

It was in Sicily where Pescetelli gained an even greater appreciati­on for the importance of ingredient­s and the value of simplicity in cooking.

“You have some of the best bresaola from Nebrodi,” he says. “In Bronte, you have the best pistachios.”

With superb ingredient­s, Pescetelli says there’s no need to overcompli­cate things in the kitchen.

To cite another example, he mentions the burrata cheese from the Apulia region of Italy. Sure, you can get American burrata, he says, but it’s not imbued with six or seven generation­s of tradition.

“That’s also part of the Italian cuisine,” Pescetelli says. “My job is to let that philosophy continue—and not for it to be overridden somehow.”

I always use the values of martial arts in the kitchen, like respect… – chef Valerio Pescetelli

 ?? ?? Valerio Pescetelli worked in top restaurant­s in London and Italy before settling in Vancouver.
Valerio Pescetelli worked in top restaurant­s in London and Italy before settling in Vancouver.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada