Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we ask top culinary talents a few questions about the world of food and drink.
Marc Vetri lived for Sunday suppers with his family growing up.
"I always wanted to help out my grandparents, so I'd go down to their house before everyone got there to help them cook for the family," the chef says. "I always knew I liked cooking for other people, and I kind of just fell into it from there."
After sharpening his culinary chops in the kitchens of Italy, Vetri opened Philadelphia's iconic Vetri in 1998, followed by five more Vetri family restaurants. Recently, he announced a deal with fellow Philly-based company Urban Outfitters that includes those restaurants and allows Vetri and his team to take charge of all food and beverage operations at Urban locations around the country.
We chatted with the chef about the food cities he loves, the chefs he admires and the best meals he's had across the country.
How do you feel the Philadelphia food scene has changed since you got your start?
"There really wasn't much of a food scene, but over the last 17 years, people have come to realize that Philadelphia is a great city with a lot to offer. The rents are still reasonable enough for restaurants, so I think the area has been able to grow into something really versatile."
What's the most exciting thing you've worked on in the last year?
"It's definitely our milling program. We've been milling wheat and whole grains for the last couple of years now, and it's really transformed everything we make. Instead of using store-bought flour, we're able to utilize these fresh-milled ingredients now. It's been such an amazing evolution in terms of how we cook, and we're just having a blast with it."
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Which dish from one of your menus are you most proud of?
"I really have a hard time just picking one item—for me, it really doesn't make sense. You're not working in a restaurant to be proud of one dish that you're making. You want to be proud of all of them. It's more about being creative and mentoring others along the way."
Who do you admire in the food industry?
"Mark Ladner is one. I think he's got such an amazing palate and a thoughtful approach to everything he does.
Paul Kahan has also really been a hero of mine, and Mario Batali. Just the way that they run their restaurants and the way that they find time to give back—that's the definition of being a true leader."
What are a few dishes that every cook should have in one's arsenal?
"I think every cook should know how to blanch vegetables correctly, how to use a knife, how to make a sauce and a stock, and how to butcher fish and whole animals. I think they should know the basics and build a foundation from there."
What was the best meal you had in the past year?
"I think one of the most surprising meals that I had recently was in Austin at Emmer & Rye. The chef, Kevin Fink, has been doing a lot of fresh milling down there, and that freshness is reflected in the food. I just thought it was a really thoughtful, delicious meal.
Also, we go to Del Posto every year for my mom and dad's anniversary. Every meal there is amazing, but this one was just particularly a special experience. It was one of the more innovative and delicious yet simple meals we've ever had there."
What is your go-to food city?
"I don't really have one, to be honest. I think there are awesome restaurants everywhere—Nashville, Philly, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco, Memphis. They're all really growing right now, and I think you can find amazing food anywhere."
What's one piece of advice you would give to young chefs?
"There are thousands of pieces of advice you could give to them, but I'd say just work hard and love what you do. It's that easy."
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