The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2013

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Page 48 of 152

CHEFS: ONE-ON-ONE WITH MERRILL SHINDLER Adam Leonti THE CHEF DE CUISINE AT VETRI IN PHILADELPHIA HAS MOVED FROM MASHED POTATOES TO MASTERY A dam Leonti has done more in his 24 years than most do in several lifetimes. Growing up in Portland, Maine, he learned to cook from his Sicilian grandfather and his Neapolitan grandmother. By his late teens, he was in the kitchens of Philly landmarks like Striped Bass, Barclay Prime and Le Bec-Fin. He signed on at Vetri in 2008. And then left for six months at Osteria della Brughiera in Bergamo, Italy. He returned to Vetri with an understanding that the essence of Italian cooking is, first and foremost, taste. And that being a great chef, and riding your bike 100 miles a day, can be the same thing. Merrill Shindler: What's your earliest food memory? Adam Leonti: My great aunt cooking her spaghetti and meatballs. I was about three at the time. I knew it was something to love. What did you cook growing up? My family would put me on potato detail. I made lots of mashed potatoes. And cinnamon rolls. At seven I was making cinnamon rolls. How did you land in a restaurant kitchen at age 14? I was in Latin class with my friend Ian. He was 18, and the manager at a private club, the Italian Heritage Center. I was the dishwasher. I'd peel potatoes for hours. I'd make 500 meatballs for weddings. What did you learn during your six months in Italy? I knew about technique. They taught me how to taste. Creativity is not what Italian food is about; it's about taste. The chef would say I had a heavy hand; I put in too much flavor, too much salt, garlic. I learned elegance. Is Italian food as good in America as it is in Italy? Italians are very proud of their ingredients. There are certain dishes they say are impossible for us to make. That's not the case. We're surrounded by wonderful ingredients. It's all about the taste. Once you have that, you can make anything. You have a collection of more than 1000 cookbooks. How did it begin? My first cookbook was from a childhood girlfriend, a pasta making book. I started reading everything. I'm proudest of my copy of Foods of Tuscany, signed by Giuliano Bugialli. And how is bicycling like cooking? It's all about discipline, all about preparing yourself. Cooking is like that. If you don't train, you'll never get anywhere. I'm training every day. 48  /  the tasting panel  /  december 2013 TP1213_034-63.indd 48 11/23/13 8:26 PM

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