Chef Spotlight: Executive Chef Antonio Morichini of Via Vai in Astoria
Owner and Executive Chef Antonio Morichini of Via Vai in Astoria Queens is a Roman native who personally makes each dish, including the restaurant's handmade pastas on a daily basis. Chef Morichini's roots began in Italy where he attended ICIF (Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners) in the Piedmont region before working as sous chef and chef de cuisine at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants including II Convivio Troiani, Glass Hostaria, and Acquolina. In New York he was mentored by Stefano Riccioletti, at Alfredo of Rome near Rockefeller Center, and Pino Luongo's Centolire.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Morichini about his career and Via Vai.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
My interest in cooking started when I was young - you can't be Italian and not grow up around cooking, it's just part of the culture. My true passion for cooking, however, comes from the first time I ate in a Michelin starred restaurant. It was then that I realized it was what I wanted to do. Discovering the way in which flavors can come together to form a masterful dish, that's when I started to get into cooking as a career and I eventually ended up working at the restaurant that first stirred my passion for food.
Who were some of your career mentors?
When I working in New York I was mentored by Chef Stefano Riccioletti, at Alfredo of Rome near Rockefeller Center, and Pino Luongo's Centolire. That intangible experience shaped the way I cook and made me into the chef I am today. His work ethic and culinary practices rubbed off on me and inspired me to make a permanent move to New York in 2008 where I was able to open VIA VAI in 2014.
What culinary styles have influenced your career
The main culinary style that has influenced my career is of course Italian. True artists and professionals, those culinary traditions of fresh, stand out ingredients and warm hospitality have greatly influenced my career. My travels around Italy, tasting the different flavors and having those experiences that come from Italy, helped me to understand true Italian cooking. They use a different approach by exalting the main ingredient and emphasizing it instead of hiding it with unnecessary elements and outlandish flavors just to make a statement, and I carry that on with my work at VIA VAI.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
My approach stems from my culinary style. It is firmly based on traditional Italian cuisine, and through my techniques and creativity I give form to my personal style where I emphasize the main ingredient and exalt it. For example, tortellini in brodo - filled pasta in chicken broth -- has become a Tortello di Brodo, the broth is from the preparation of the foie gras that we also offer on the menu. Another example is my branzino cooked in the cavity of pizza dough, cooking the fish by steaming it with aromatic herbs and lemon, and finished with excellent Italian olive oil.
I avoid using heavy sauces and rely on the harmony of flavor in the dish. For example the Tortello di Brodo, is finished with armigiana fondue, lightly dressed with truffle sauce and a marsala wine reduction, so delicate guests are asked to scoop them with their forks. use a lot of citrus and nuts in my dishes to add flavor without overwhelming the star of the recipe, i.e., the main ingredient.
What is your favorite meal?
When it comes to my favorite meal, I like to keep things simple. A regular pasta dish with a good, light, tomato sauce works for me.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
VIA VAI is an authentic meets contemporary Michelin-recognized Italian experience that is worth crossing the bridge for in Astoria. We are devoted to bringing the real tastes of Italy to New York, my menu is an ever-evolving love letter to my homeland, and in particular Rome, infusing my own modern and inventive twists for surprising flavor profiles. We are located in Astoria and have been serving the community for over five years and bring authentic Italian cuisine, wine and hospitality to the forefront crafting an inviting mini vacation with the feel of Italy for our diners.
Via Vai is located at 31-09 23rd Ave., Astoria, NY 11105. Visit their web site at www.viavai-ny.com or call347-612-4334. You can also follow them on Instagram @viavainyc. The restaurant hours are Mon. to Thurs.: 4:00pm to 10:00pm; Friday and Saturday 12:30pm to 11:00pm; and Sunday from 12:30pm to 10:00pm.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chef Antonio Morichini