10 Questions with Steve Wildy by Scott Charles Schroeder III
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back SPTR/ASB chef Scott Schroeder back! This time he's got Vetri Family beverage director Steve Wildy in the hot seat.
10 Questions with Steve Wildy by Scott Charles Schroeder III
Please put your hands together and welcome South Philly Taproom and American Sardine Bar chef Scott Schroeder back to Meal Ticket for the second installment of 10 Questions!
Name: Stephen Francis Wildy
Born: Bangor, Northern Ireland
Job: Beverage Director, Vetri Family
SCS3: What is your job and what do you do? I have no idea because I know you're the beverage guy but I don't even know what the hell that means.
SW: We have four restaurants and basically I over see the lists that pertain to beverage for each restaurant. So just different beverage menus, wine, beer, and cocktails.
SCS3: When I met you that was like 2004-2005, you were working at Julius Silvert, handling a lot of the specialty stuff. 2 or 3 years later and you were working with Vetri. Was that a plan?
SW: Getting into Vetri was far from my expectations. I waited tables through college and I graduated with an international studies degree. Which left me totally unemployable and I kept waiting tables. I had a friend who worked for Silvert, Steve Cortale, he told me about a position that opened up. I thought that's what I would get into for the rest of my career, do something food related. I fell in love with restaurants and waiting tables but couldn't handle where I was at the time and was fed up with the things that go along with being at a restaurant. So I sat at a desk for 2 years and really loved customer service. I was more of a customer service manager at Silver but I handled a bunch of different accounts, like you. Where we would spend 2 hours on the phone together when you'd order your 5lb. bag of sharp cheddar, send it back and say, “This isn't what I wanted, I said extra sharp cheddar, what are you an idiot?”
But I liked it a lot and really got into olive oils, cheeses, and a lot of specialty foods. I always thought that I wouldn't get back into the restaurant business unless it was for somebody like Marc Vetri. It kind of fell in my lap. Michael Solmonov referred me when they were opening up Osteria. It was just right place, right time. When I got back into it I realized that I had missed it so much. Missed being on my feet, missed being social for a living. The restaurant world affords you so many opportunities to be goofy and be social.
SCS3: Did you start out as the beverage guy?
SW: I didn't. I started as the general manager for Vetri. It was kind of like a test period. I drank wine when I was a server and got into wine, studied as much as I could on my own but I was way under qualified to be anywhere near wine at a restaurant like Vetri. Mark and Jeff were awesome. They gave me a crash course for a month or two to see how I’d do. I drank every bottle that was open and they were awesome about walking me through it.
SCS3: And are you going to be riding off into the sunset with Marc Vetri in the end?
SW: Well, I'm 3 years into it. I love everything about Vetri, love everything about service and people walk into that restaurant ready to fall in love with you. Vetri is like no other place and I love it. I was lucky enough to kind of be lined up to do this and it's been amazing. I would like to do beverage stuff for the rest of my life. I think someday I could see myself with a wine shop or working at a winery or something like that.
SCS3: This is a multi-parter. Do you cook? Are you any good? What do you cook?
SW: I cook terribly easy pasta at night. I'll come home at night and cook a pound of pasta and try to eat as much as I can before I pass out. I've watched what the guys do on the line at all the restaurants and feel like I've kind of cheated my way into how to make stuff, not like the way they make it but you know.
SCS3: I think the day I reached out to you was the day your house caught fire. What happened and do you think of me as a bad omen now?
SW: It actually was. I got the text from you and then I burnt my house down in a rage! We have this big old Fishtown house that we love and we bought because it's got all these crazy old details but it's definitely in need a lot of love. The roof was in need of partial replacement and we ended up just doing the whole thing. The roofer that was on the job torched down a piece of rubber in a corner, didn't notice that it started to smolder and went to work on a different part of the roof. Our neighbors told them that it was smoking and rather than call the fire department or use a fire extinguisher, they went downstairs, got a bucket of water, carried it up the ladder, while it was spilling everywhere and tried to put it out that way. So eventually flames just started shooting off the roof. The main guy called me and was like "Hey, uh, I don't want to alarm you. There's a little smoke coming off your house and uh, the neighbors freaked out and called the fire department so they're there now but everything's cool. All stuff we can fix." And I get there and the whole block is closed down. Three fire trucks and my front door is knocked open. The whole place was just torn apart. Thankfully the fire fighters got there and put out the fire but they did not leave anything unturned. The house is filled with hundreds of gallons of water, ceilings were torn out and a whole wall missing right out into the open air. We lost possessions but nothing crazy. My wife is super low key and very low stress so she's been awesome about it. I'm the one that's panicked about it. I'm like you're pregnant, WHERE ARE WE GONNA LIVE!?
SCS3: I'm assuming that you do spend a lot of time tasting. Do you have a drinking problem?
SW: We went to the doctors when we found out we were pregnant and my wife was like, “I was drinking through out conception and I'm not sure how that effects things.” and the doctor's like, ‘Well, what were you drinking? How much?” and she was like, “I don't know, a drink or two a day” and the doctor’s like, “a drink or two a day?!” Before I'd been opening up a bottle of wine and probably finishing it when I get home. With that set back I kind of feel like that wasn’t a healthy amount. I added it up and it's probably been like three years since I went a single day without having a drink. It really freaked me out and so I did a little detox. I will say this, I thought I would have the same kind of detox feeling as when I stopped eating red meat but I didn't feel a lick different not drinking for three weeks.
SCS3: So we had a fight at Julia Silvert one time. A bad fight. Steve Sorkin got involved. We didn't talk for a couple weeks. Are we cool now? And do you want to apologize?
SW: Can you remind me what happened? I remember pretty much like one out of every two phone calls you'd hang up on me. You were one of my favorite accounts because you had a philosophical approach to what you were doing. But there was an element of being on the phone with you for a while because you kind of needed somebody to talk to. I'd be watching calls come in from Buddakan, New York that were going to spend $5,000 and then I'd ask you to just take another case of milk to meet the minimum and then we'd get in a fight.
SCS3: So Kathy, the girl I work with brought this up, she said that you are really good about making wine as unpretentious as beer. Are you conscious of that? Is there a philosophy behind that?
SW: Maybe because I make beer so pretenscious that the wine seems not so bad! Yeah, I mean, you look at a country like Italy and there's tons of different regions, tons of grapes, every grape has three or four different styles. So many grapes have so many different names and different regions, it's really daunting. I'm always floored when anyone comes into the restaurant and has even the most basic grasp of Italian wine. When I started Vetri I was totally undereducated. I think back to me being like that and not knowing anything and I try to remember that every single time I talk to anybody about wine. You can't ask if they know Italian wine, you're not going to get an answer. So you just kind of start as simply and straight forward as possible in a wine conversation and see what comes of it. Unless somebody's a sommelier, they like wine but don't know everything there is to know about it, no one does.
SCS3: What does your wife do and does she have a drinking problem?
SW: My wife teaches kids with developmental and behavioral disabilities at a residential campus where she's the art teacher. She brings balance to our relationship by doing meaningful work in something that actually makes a difference, while I go visit some wineries. She does not have a drinking problem but she really enjoys wine. When we first started dating she pretended to like beer for a couple weeks while I was dragging her to pubs and finally when we got to know each other well enough she's like, “I don't like beer. Can we go somewhere else?”
SCS3: Colin Flatt from Eater told someone that he thinks these interviews were going to take away from and/or ruin my “brand”. Do I have a “brand” and is he right?
SW: I always thought of your “brand” as nosy inquisitive chef that talks a lot so I think this is perfect. It lines right up.
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