When we heard Vino e Olio's executive chef Andrea Menichetti would be cooking with his two-Michelin Star-rated chef mama this past week, we couldn't resist heading in for an interview. While it's true the restaurant has been getting some tough press recently, his mother, two-Michelin Star-rated chef Valeria Piccini, wasn't in town to comfort him. She and Menichetti's dad were on vacation, it seems, and they came out to check on their son to see how things were going at the new Design District spot.
She cooked a four-course meal with him this past Saturday, just after he whipped up some almond cannoli with chocolate mousse at the Fairchild Botanic Gardens' Chocolate Festival. Though we missed both undeniably delicious occasions, we were still given a tasting of what Menichetti considers his top dishes. In a nutshell, we thought his tomato appetizer was nice, but not crave-worthy and his seafood dishes were beautifully presented but slightly under-seasoned; yet his pasta plates--the ones that have been critiqued most often--and desserts were divine. Near perfect, really, with unexpected flavors that delivered a punch.
But enough about our opinions. Here's what he and his mom had to say: (Actually, Mom didn't say much because she doesn't speak English, but she was beaming).
New Times: Let's get right into this. Local food reviewers have come down on you recently. What do you say to their critiques?
Andrea Menichetti: We've had a lot of Italian guests and everybody who tried our restaurant has come back. But I didn't get great reviews [by the press]. A lot of people told me you're not Italian because you don't have fettuccine Alfredo.
Another thing I've read is that your prices are expensive.
AM: We are not expensive. We have pasta at $12. Do you think that's expensive? Pasta handmade with the finest tomatoes in the world.
The price of the main dishes go between $28 and $35. That's the regular price for all the main dishes at the restaurants in Miami. Maybe some of the appetizers can be expensive, but the price of the fish comes from the high quality of product we use. All of dishes are prepared with the best product I can find at the market. If you know about food, when you eat that you can understand that. It's not too expensive.
You said you've eaten at a few local Italian restaurants. What did you find?
AM: They use too much heavy cream. I hate heavy cream and they put the heavy cream everywhere. Look, fettuccine Alfredo is not Italian. Fettuccine Alfredo doesn't exist.
Do you think you should Americanize Vino e Olio's menu, though?
AM: No. I don't. If you like Italian, this is Italian. I can make for you whatever you want, but this is my menu. If they want, they can have the chef table. Usually we have a special menu. You have to give us one day for the reservation. I talk to the guests, ask them what they want to eat, then I go to the market and pick up the things.
Where do you go?
Are the selections much different than that you had in Italy?
AM: Yes. Fish is completely different. Ours is better. This is bigger, but without flavor. But the meat, this is better.
Where in Italy are you from?
AM: Montemerano. It's south of Tuscany.
When did you arrive in the States?
AM: I moved one and a half years ago [to start] this concept.
How did you end up in Miami?
AM: My partner is from here. We met in Italy at our place [the family's restaurant) 12 years ago. In 2007 he proposed we open a restaurant together. After one year he sent me a ticket to come to Miami. He said he found a place and he'd like to do a restaurant here.
What was this space before?
AM: It was empty. Craig Robins never gave this place to anyone. I don't know why. A lot of chefs asked for this place. We invited him to Italy and he decided to give us this space.
Tell me about your family's restaurant in Italy.
AM: It opened in 1971. Tuscan-Italian. It's one of the best Italian restaurants in Italy. Two Michelin stars.
What's the name of the place?
AM: Da Caino.
What does that mean?
AM: It's a historic name. From when Rome was born. It's a myth. It's the son of a wolf. There were two brothers and the wolf took care of [them]. One brother killed the other. It was the nickname of my grandfather.
Why? Was your grandfather a murderer?
AM: [Laughs.] He didn't kill nobody.
When did you start working in the restaurant?
AM: In 1986. I was 7 years old. I did water and bread, like a busboy.
Your mother, the executive chef there, is a self-taught two-star Michelin earner and you are obviously talented. Did you know you were always going to be a chef?
AM: Before I directed front of the house, then sommelier, then chef.
Did you go to culinary school?
AM: I didn't go to school. I studied for accounting. But I grew up inside the restaurant.
Did your mom teach you everything?
Do you remember the first thing she taught you to cook?
AM: Pasta by hand. It's the one on the menu. It's like spaghetti -- umbricelli. Long and thin, but it's thicker.
What's the secret?
AM: You have to work hard with your hands. No machine.
Mom, did you think he was going to be a chef?
Valeria Piccini: Yes. Maybe. [I] hoped.
What do you think of his restaurant?
VP: It has very nice design. It's very big. Our restaurant [in Italy] has 22 seats. It's completely different. I think the kitchen is six times bigger than the one in Italy.
And what advice did she give you before opening your first restaurant?
AM: Be careful. Find products close to ours. I taught you the way to make nice food.
And what advice would you give a first-time restaurateur, Andrea?
AM: Good luck! I had to look for product for one year.
And did she help you open this place?
AM: My mom gave me a very big hand when we were opening by training the staff.
And are you pleased with what he has created here? Is it too big?
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VP: He can handle it. I tasted the dishes and I liked them. It's very good.
Monday we'll talk about the biggest celebrity he cooked for, which Miami restaurant he feels serves the most authentic Italian food (aside from Vino e Olio, of course!), and we'll get all gnudi up in here.