Marc Vetri and Andrew Friedman

Chef Marc Vetri Attributes His Success to Risk

Chef Marc Vetri and Andrew Friedman finally found time during the Philly Chef Conference earlier this spring to record an episode of “Andrew Talks to Chefs.” They met on a beautiful April morning in the dining room of Marc's flagship Vetri Cucina, and went through Chef's evolution from aspiring rock star to fledgling cook to full-fledged James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur.

Chef Marc, whose restaurants include Vetri Cucina, Osteria and Pizzeria Vetri, has a straightforward approach to business: risk equals reward.

While attending music school, Chef Marc worked the line in several restaurants, which led him to realize his passion for cooking. But it wasn’t until Wolfgang Puck opened a restaurant in Malibu that Chef Marc decided he wanted to pursue a culinary career instead of a career in music.

In a bold move, Chef Marc went straight to the head chef at Puck’s new restaurant and said, “I really want to work here.” While the response wasn’t what he hoped for — “we don't have anything now” — Marc was encouraged when the chef told him to come back another time. “I stopped back for about 14 days in a row, and one day somebody no-showed.” Chef Marc worked the line that night and got invited to come back again, and again. “I stopped back for the next three or four weeks,” he said, “pretty much every day, six days a week.”

Over the next four years, Chef Marc rose through the ranks at different restaurants and became friends with a friend of Wolfgang Puck. That friendship led to an offer to stage in Northern Italy.

“He said head to the restaurant here, [and] hand the guy this note,” he recalls. “So, I bought a one-way ticket to Italy. I somehow made my way over there, walked in and handed the owner this note…and I started working that evening.”

During his time in Italy, Chef Marc gained a deep understanding and appreciation for Italian culture and cuisine and brought that back to the United States, opening a restaurant in Alaska and later working as the Head Chef of a restaurant in New York City.

Years later, Chef Marc returned to his hometown of Philadelphia to start his own restaurant. Rather than search for investors, he put everything on the line to maintain ownership of his restaurant.

“I opened September 22, 1998, and the only reason I opened was [that] I had no more money to make anything else happen,” he says. “I had like zero dollars in my bank account, [and was] negative on my Amex. So we opened.” Vetri Cucina has been nominated for many James Beard Foundation Awards, including Best New Restaurant Northeast, Outstanding Restaurant and Outstanding Chef.

Following the success of Vetri Cucina, Chef Marc maintained his financially independent attitude when opening the rest of his restaurants. “I got loans, always. I never had one investor with all the restaurants I opened.

His success and commitment to risk can be attributed primarily to his love and passion for the kitchen. “I'm still having fun…this makes me happy. I'm at my restaurants every evening. Not because I have to be here. Not because they really need my help. Because I love it.”

Listen to the full episode of Andrew Talks to Chefs, where Chef Marc expands on his unique path, the importance of his time in Los Angeles and Italy, and the importance of taking risks to find success.

This episode of Andrew Talks to Chefs, a fully independent podcast hosted by Andrew Friedman, was published with permission. 

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