Chef Michael White, the "pasta prince," is at the helm of an impressive roster of restaurants: Michelin-star winners Marea and Ai Fiori, the famous Osteria Morini, and Nicoletta Pizzeria to name just a few.
Although he was born in Beloit, Wisconsin he's a master of Italian cuisine, and began his career at Spiagga in Chicago before moving to Italy for several years to perfect his art.
Although his main tour de force is Italian home cooking, he also owns the successful French restaurant Vaucluse on the Upper East Side. Naturally, the food is beautiful—it's French, after all.
I was fortunate enough to check out an exclusive tasting of Vaucluse's new fall menu in partnership with Gilt's #GiltLife campaign, at their pop-up shop townhouse in Soho. Despite the dreary, drizzly weather (I may or may not have smacked a food blogger in the face with my umbrella on my way in), both Gilt and Chef White brought to life an unforgettable night.
I was lucky enough to get a few minutes to speak to Chef White about his love of Italian food, his inspiration at Vaucluse, and his thoughts on college cooking.
Carter: The Italians are very passionate about their cuisine. How do you show that passion in your own cooking?
Michael White: It's about the simplicity of the ingredients, the simplicity of the dish. At Osteria Morini, for example, you'll see that the menu changes frequently, with the seasons, but it's always simple. It feels like you're eating in someone's home. That's how you want to feel about good, true, Italian cooking.
Taking a step back, how did become so passionate about cooking in general?
MW: I'm originally from the Midwest, and attended Kendall Culinary School in Chicago then I went to Europe and ended up staying for a while. When I came back, I worked at Spiagga, which is where I really started to see how that elegant simplicity I mentioned earlier works in a large, formal restaurant setting. After that, it was Fiamma Osteria, where we won a Michelin star. Now, I'm fortunate I can do something I'm passionate about every single day.
I'm curious: Italian is such a simple, homestyle cuisine, while French is known as one of the most elaborate. How do you approach that difference? Is it challenging, fun?
MW: I'm fortunate that I get to cook from multiple culinary traditions. Many chefs have either one restaurant or one style that they're comfortable with, but I've been able to branch out explore different culinary traditions, as you can see tonight with the menu from Vaucluse.
Yes! Speaking of the menu, what can we look forward to tonight?
MW: Tonight we'll be tasting some of the highlights from Vaucluse's new fall menu, which is perfect on a dreary night like this. We've got a duck cassoulet as the highlight, so again, thinking about those homey, fresh flavors. I don't want to give away too much, though!
I can't wait. One last question. What would your advice be to college students who want to get better at cooking, or understand more about food in general? Where is a good place to start?
MW: We live in an age where so much is accessible on the internet—I think it's a great resource. There are so many videos that give you instant access to easy recipes, and social media in general is a great place to find inspiration. It's so popular right now, I really think we're at the beginning of the food bell curve.