As part of our Ten Ingreditent series where Sally Deering our Senior WriterÂ Â interviews Â the Chef’s that oversee the kitchens of some of the finest restaurants in Hudson County -we present Chef Michael Coletti of VB3 Restaurant
By Sally Deering
VB3 on Washington Boulevard in downtown Jersey City features theVB3 Pizzeria where office workers and neighborhood residents dash in for a slice or a pie; and the VB3 dining room and lounge with the sexiest bar in Jersey City. Itâ€™s an eye-catching island of dark wood with a surface of â€œorange liquid lavaâ€ and bar stools with bright-orange backs and faux leopard print seats.Â No detail in this beautiful restaurant has been overlooked by Owner and Executive Chef Michael Colletti, General Managers Giuseppi â€œLittle Joeâ€ Russo and Giuseppi â€œBig Joeâ€ Russo; and business partners Gary Leff and Ricky Leff. This team put heart and soul into the place and it shows.
Chef Colletti, 29, attended the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park and after graduation worked at the prestigious Le Cirque and then Chef de Cuisine at Mai House. After five years in New York, Chef Colletti joined his friend and celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn at the Sunnyside Group and helped him open Good Stuff Eatery in Washington D.C. In 2010, Colletti and Mendelsohn appeared in â€œIron Chefâ€ competing in â€œBattle Proscuittoâ€ against world famous chef Michael Symon. Chef Colletti also cooked for President Barack Obama and his staff at The White House.
Letâ€™s meet Chef Colletti!
RVO:Â Chef Colletti, can you tell our readers a little about your background?
CC:Â My family is from Sicily. My father moved here at 14 and I was raised in Elizabeth. My grandfather would be in the garden all day and my grandmother would cook in the kitchen. There would be 20 of us in the kitchen â€“ weâ€™re a big Italian family.
RVO:Â How was VB3 realized?
CC: The Monaco building was getting built and my cousins were looking to open a third restaurant that served more than pizzas and sandwiches. We opened VB3 in May 2012.
RVO:Â How would you describe your signature cooking style?
CC:Â Modern seasoned Italian cooking from the farm to the table â€“ Italian food with a modern twist.
RVO:Â What is the most popular VB3 dish?
CC: Our Baby Back Ribs are really popular. Itâ€™s a two-day process. We bake them, braise them, rub them with seasonings and roast them. Then we glaze them with a homemade BBQ sauce and grill them. Itâ€™s fall-off-the-bone delicious. And we serve them with pickled cabbage, and grilled peaches.
RVO:Â How do you come up with the dishes you create?
CC:Â Itâ€™s a constant process. Something might pop up in my head. It could be new produce that comes into the market. And I have great chefs in the kitchen. Weâ€™ll discuss the seasonâ€™s offerings and work on dishes. Sometimes the best dishes come from messing around. Here, itâ€™s okay to â€˜play with your food.â€™
RVO:Â How do you run your kitchen?
CC: The most important thing about the kitchen is that is has to be clean. And I give my chefs freedom in the kitchen. My crew has been with me a while and they are all seasoned professionals. I like them to be themselves. Itâ€™s a better work environment. You canâ€™t run a kitchen like a corporation. I want my chefs to let their personality show in their food.
RVO:Â Can you share an easy recipe for our busy readers?
CC: Pasta with lentils is a quick go-to dish. Cut up onion and garlic and sautÃ© them in olive oil. Add 1-1/2 cups of lentils and cover with 3 cups of chicken broth and cook the lentils for about 45 minutes. Boil some pasta, small noodles like Ditalini, strain and add the lentils. Serve it with some grated cheese and some olive oil. Itâ€™s simple and delicious.
RVO:Â Do you have a food philosophy?
CC: Yes â€“ simple, local and fresh. I like the ingredients to speak for themselves.
Â RVO:Â What chef inspired you the most?
CC: Chef Brian Walter at Aqua was a great influence. He was maybe 26 at the time I worked for him and he was doing some really cool, fun stuff. And at Le Cirque, owner and restaurateur Sirio Maccioni taught me how to run a restaurant at that caliber. He was the owner and general manager and he knew everybody who came to his restaurant and treated everybody with respect. Some chefs hide in the kitchen. I go out and talk to my customers. I want to connect with the people who eat my food.Â
RVO:Â Did your family influence your decision to become a chef?
CC:Â The biggest influences on me were my grandmother, my grandfather and my father. They taught me the appreciation and love for food. There was food and family and that brought happiness to everybody. And now, Iâ€™m doing that here.
If you go:
VB3 Restaurant, Pizzeria and Bar
The Monaco Building
475 Washington Blvd.