In Philadelphia, there is perhaps no bigger name amongst chefs than Marc Vetri. Between his eponymous high-end Italian restaurant Vetri and the more casual Osteria, he's caught the eye of New Yorkers from Mario Batali (who wrote the foreword for Vetri's upcoming cookbook) to New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt (see the tweeted evidence here). And now Chef tells us that in November or December—the dates and locations are still being worked on—he will host a series of pop-up dinners in New York. There will be a music component to these dinners featuring Vetri and his singer-songwriter friend Phil Roy. Being the young gun critically acclaimed chef that he is, it makes sense that he's also an accomplished guitar player.
In the video above, we get a taste of what we can expect from the concert portion of the dinners. The Feast also chatted with Vetri about his history with the guitar, the making of the concert-dinner series, and the possibility of opening a restaurant in New York.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I've been playing music since I was 10 years old. I actually went to the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles out in Hollywood in 1990. And then when I moved to Italy I went with a backpack and a guitar. I've always played, just to relax. When I first opened Vetri and no one used to come to the restaurant, we were open until midnight. We used to sit there from eight to midnight and I would play guitar for four hours. When someone came in I'd stop and make them dinner. A couple of years ago, I started taking lessons from local gypsy jazz guy.
You've played a lot with singer-songwriter Phil Roy (seen in the video above). How'd you meet?
He stopped into the restaurant about five years ago. We figured out that he was in LA when I lived in LA and we must have crossed paths at some point. About a week later, he was over at my house and I was showing him my guitar collection. I started playing, and he was like, 'Oh wow, you don't just play the guitar, you really play the guitar.' He told me about these dinners that he was doing—his "I'm Not Leaving the House" tour. He's a musician who loves to cook. He invites 30 people over to his house and makes them a three-course meal. I suggested we take that to Osteria, where we'd make the food, do it family style, and he'd do a show afterward. Then he suggested I sit in with him for a few songs. Eventually, I would play every song with him.
And you guys have played together outside of the restaurant too?
Right, he started asking me to sit in when he did a concert. Last summer Melody Gardot, who's a pretty big singer-songwriter from Philly, was getting ready to do her North American tour. She asked Phil to open up some shows for her and he asked me to join him. We ended up opening for her in Boston, Chicago and Philly.
Tell us about these New York concert-dinners you're working on.
They'll probably be in November or December and be family-style dinners. They basically recreate the feeling of eating in your house. Everybody gathers around and you eat, laugh, and then you listen to music afterwards.
From a culinary standpoint, how important is it for you to bring your food up to New York?
Philly's never gotten a whole lot of respect. In the last five years, we've really had a lot of awesome chefs that are opening up very wonderful restaurants. Jose [Garces] has a bunch of restaurants. Stephen Starr, whatever you want to say about him, is a very talented restaurateur. We have a lot of "212" and "917" area code people in [our restaurants] every night. I ask them what they're in town for and it's always the same answer: "We came here to eat." New York is a very big market for us; it's very important for me to get out there.
Are you testing the waters for a possible New York restaurant?
I would love to open up in NY if the timing is right, if the deal is right. We've talked to folks. I'm not in any rush to open up there. I like being able to walk to all of my restaurants, but New York is just an hour and a half away. It's right in our backyard.