Spezzare il pane. Chef Vincenzo Betulia Interview

Spezzare il pane. Chef Vincenzo Betulia Interview

A few weeks ago we stumbled across Osteria Tulia, an Italian restaurant in downtown Naples. But we weren’t looking for Osteria Tulia, we were trying to find Bar Tulia. Good thing it was right next door! Bar Tulia is a craft cocktail bar with an impressive wine and beer list. After a few cocktails we walked across the street for dinner at The French Brasserie Rustique. At the time I had no idea the chef was connected to all three… So I was excited to learn that Chef Vincenzo Betulia was interested in an interview, I just had to learn more. I didn’t get to meet Chef that night, but had a blast researching and learning more about Osteria Tulia. I will leave The French for another interview! I hope you’re hungry because it is my pleasure to introduce you to Chef Vincenzo Betulia.

You opened Osteria Tulia in 2013. Tell me more about that vision, why you picked Naples, and how you developed the menu.
I was the chef of Campiello for twelve years, and within that time the town got familiar with my cuisine. I wanted to experience being an owner (and live out the dream) but really wanted to be in a smaller restaurant as well to execute the ideas that I had. The vision was to produce most everything “in the house.” We make, hand twist and extrude all of our pasta daily with the help of my mother, father and the pasta team. We make our own sausage, cure our own salumi, make our own limoncello, etc. We also have created wonderful relationships with farmers and fishermen that help us feature the bounty of Florida for our guests.

We were at Bar Tulia the other night. Why did you decide to separate the two?
I kept Bar Tulia a separate restaurant entity because when the business next door moved out and took everything out, we demolished the interior walls and then the vision came to me. I saw a SOHO NYC hip small space. I physically saw an empty room, but through my eyes I saw people standing in the space, I heard loud music and the energy of the space. The other reason I didn’t make Osteria Tulia (as most restaurateurs would have done) is because I did not want to tax the kitchen with more dining room and seats, and still keep the kitchen the same. This is a common error that is always made. Overzealous owners and operators. For me, it’s about QUALITY and not quantity.

How often are you switching the menu? Do you do it seasonally or as you become inspired for a new dish?
I change seasonally. However, since we print them in house, if a farmer or fisherman bring in something in-season, different or cool I will change it that day.

You hosted a Friends of James Beard Benefit dinner in April 2015. Tell me more about that and what planning goes into a meal like that.
We hosted Naples’ first Friends of James Beard Benefit dinner and it was quite amazing. My goal back in 2013 when we opened Osteria was to elevate the dining scene in Naples. Naples was getting national attention for its beaches and tourism. In order to give Naples the national culinary attention it deserves, I wanted to garner the attention of the James Beard Foundation and I think we achieved that. They were blown away with the caliber of the meal and it gave them the opportunity to interact with our well traveled and food savvy guests. It took months to organize that meal, and ingredients were being flown in from all over the U.S.

There are a lot of great chefs out there. Who are some of your favorite chefs and what chefs are you most inspired by?
There is immense talent in this world but I am more inspired by the chefs that not only show culinary prowess through simplicity, but also run a highly successful and healthy business. Chefs can be one sided and put all their eggs in the creative basket forgetting about the business basket. The chef that has blown me away in America is Eric Ripert. His 3 star Michelin NYC seafood mecca shows the simplicity of singular flavors and plated elegance. Other chefs I look up to are Paul Bartolotta, Daniel Boulud, Yves Camdeborde, Antoine Westerman, Justin Smilie, Jonathan Waxman… I can go on and on.

What is your favorite item on the menu right now?
At Osteria Tulia, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe. At Bar Tulia, Grilled Octopus with Romesco, Forbidden Rice and Bone Marrow. At The French, Poulet Roti and Beef Tartare.

Besides Osteria Tulia, what are some of your other favorite restaurants in Naples?
I have three small boys at home so I don’t have a whole lot a time to eat out. If we do go out, we may have some sushi at SushiOne. Most of the time, it’s grilling at the house.

You won a Best Chefs of America Award in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Tell me more about that award and what that award means to you.
BCA is similar to JBF in the sense that our peers in the industry choose the winners. BCA contacts people in the industry and in their respective towns and ask simple questions. The award personally doesn’t mean much to me. It’s more about our local culinary community and Naples getting national culinary attention.

Gordon Ramsey is my favorite celebrity chef. What about you?
Eric Ripert is my favorite celebrity chef.

Everyone knows wine pairs well with food, but beer, too. You have an impressive list of beers at Bar Tulia. Do you see try to create new menu items with wine or beer in mind, or do you pick what to pair it with after the fact?
We’re a chef and food driven company so everything revolves around the food. We have curated amazing relationships with boutique wineries in Italy and France and have great relationships with local brewmasters.

How did you and Frank Pullara meet?
Frank and I met through blood. We’re first cousins.

Do you have plans to expand Osteria Tulia, or does this location keep you busy enough for now?
As of right now, between Osteria Tulia, Bar Tulia and The French. I’m running like a chicken with no head. I don’t have any grand master plan of another restaurant anytime soon… (Laughs.)

I have to admit, I am not a big fan of Italian food. What do I know? USA Today’s 10Best recognized Osteria Tulia as the No. 1 Italian restaurant in Naples. What are some other good Italian restaurants in town?
You’re not a fan of Italian food?? Come on man!!! Most sought after cuisine in the world…. A country and cuisine full of soul, passion, emotion and love. I can’t answer the second half of the question. I don’t wanna upset any of my Italian friends… (Laughs.) My house is the other best Italian in town. (Laughs.)

You’ve received a lot of awards/recognitions over the years. Are there any that you are striving for that you haven’t quite been able to reach yet?
I would love to win a James Beard award for Naples or even just to be nominated would be awesome, but I honestly don’t strive to get awards. Awards come with a vision, which then turns to determination passion, sacrifice, focus and a ton of hard work. These qualities are hard to come by in my profession nowadays.

I watch a lot of cooking shows and restaurant shows on YouTube. Do you watch/share a lot of content there?
Not too much. I’m in my kitchens most everyday. We do have some media content on YouTube.

What are some big trends in the culinary arts right now?
2017 is the year of French food. We opened The French Brasserie right on time!

What’s next for Chef Vincenzo Betulia?
Some time off to unplug and de-clutter my mind.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
I’m passionate for what I do, and have a love affair with cooking. I give up a lot of my personal life and family time to my restaurants because to me the table is what brings people together. Cuisine sees no boundaries. Unfortunately most of the world is losing grip what it means to sit and eat slowly, drink, enjoy your family and friends around a table. We live in a technology driven age where social media platforms are more important than the people around the table. You would be surprised how many people I see in my restaurants who pay more attention to their phones than the human sitting across from them. It’s becoming really sad. We need to get back to appreciating food, drink and company; reverting back to social basics. I always say, “A TAVOLA NON SI’INVECCHIA MAI….” In Italian meaning, “At the table one does not age.” Time should slow down and stop so people can enjoy the time at the table. That is what I want to offer at my tables.