LIMITED EDITION: Chef Jeff Michaud signs copies of Eating Italy at Alla Spina.
“Eating Italy (Running Press, Sept. 24, 2013) is a book for young chefs looking to live the American dream,” says Jeff Michaud of his upcoming debut cookbook. If your dream is moving to the country that inspires culinary wanderlust, learning from i maestri della cucina Italiana, meeting the love of your life and going on to co-own some of the top Italian restaurants in the country, well, Michaud’s dream is a solid one.
Eating Italy is a reminder that cookbooks are not just collections of recipes. Sure, when it comes down to it, replicating the warm beef carpaccio with roasted mushrooms that is often a special at Alla Spina is a draw, but diving into Michaud’s culinary journey is just as appealing.
Before entering the Vetri family, Michaud, a New Hampshire native, dabbled in elementary Italian, quickly moving from folding pizza boxes to pizzaiolo at a local slice shop. Following a two-year culinary program in high school, Michaud made his way west to Aspen and a kitchen specializing in Southwestern fare. Upon hearing that Marc Vetri was hiring at his eponymous 13th and Spruce flagship, Michaud moved to Philadelphia sight unseen. The rest, well, Eating Italy does a fine job of telling the story of how a young chef falls in love with a cuisine and a country.
“After a few months, what continued to amaze me about Italian cuisine was its stubborn simplicity,” Michaud writes. “We used a minimum of ingredients. The flavors were uncomplicated. ”
A trip to Italy for a wine expo in Verona with Marc Vetri and business partner Jeff Benjamin sealed the deal. Michaud packed up and set off on what was supposed to be a yearlong working culinary tour of northern Italy, but it ended up turning into a three-year stint. Not only did he train with some of the country’s top chefs but he also met his wife, Claudia.
“My wife makes a chicken Milanese that I can eat every day,” Michaud says of a dish that echos the simplicity that he is so passionate about. Pristine ingredients and uncomplicated techniques are the two elements that set Italian cookery apart for him.
Michaud’s first executive chef gig (a coup, by the way, for an American) was at Locanda del Biancospino in Leffe, a town northeast of Milan. He incorporated elements at his disposal into his menus: guinea hens and pheasants, porcinis foraged from the forest.
The lack of a work visa brought Michaud back to the States, but Claudia, whom he met at a restaurant where he was working, kept his heart in Italy. Their story is something of a reverse Under the Tuscan Sun, and one you’ll have to pick up a copy of Eating Italy to read. Along with that story, the takeaways are gorgeous recipes like schisola (polenta stuffed with gorgonzola dulce) inspired by Claudia’s grandfather, a lovely take on his unique but true-to-the-old-country-kitchen philosophy.
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