Chef Michael Colletti has cooked for the Obamas. He’s competed on Iron Chef America. He boasts back-to-back victories in Food Network’s 2009 Food & Wine Festival’s Rachael Ray Burger Bash (in Miami and New York). This collection of accomplishments—and several others—helped pave the way to the chef’s biggest achievement to date: the opening of VB3, his Jersey City restaurant. Veronique Deblois checked in with Colletti for Jersey Bites’ latest Chef Spotlight.
What is your earliest food memory?
Growing up in a Sicilian home, my grandfather had a garden and we worked it together and picked persimmons and other fruits and vegetables. We also raised small animals.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
My dad died when I was 16 and I hated school. After taking a couple cooking classes and trying my hand at cooking, I fell in love with it.
How did you start cooking professionally?
My partner Joe’s family owned the pizzeria where I got my first restaurant job. It was a fast-paced environment and it just got me hooked.
What is your cooking style?
I have several. I owned a Vietnamese restaurant a while back and have that style in my past. At VB3, I focus on modern seasonal Italian. My background in French and Vietnamese cuisine helped form me.
What is the best opportunity that has come from cooking?
Iron Chef was a great opportunity and cooking for the Obamas when I was in DC was a real honor. But the day of the opening of VB3 made me realize I’d reached my goal.
Describe the most memorable meal you’ve had.
My grandmother was such a big influence for me. Her cooking was my favorite and Sunday was a feast of meatballs and pasta. Those family meals are the ones I consider the most memorable.
It’s your last day on earth. What will your final meal be?
French fries, PB and J, homemade pasta and fresh fruit.
What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs?
It’s a tough business with lots of hours. It’s not like [it looks] on the Food Network and not everyone’s made for it. You need to love food and have passion—and have good business acumen.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
A pig! Italians celebrate with pig all the time…feeds families for a year.
What is the one “staple” food you always have in your cupboard at home?
Kosher salt and Nutella. And beer.
What is your beverage of choice?
I’m definitely a beer drinker and I love local craft beer. Also Scotch.
What is your favorite comfort food?
A bowl of pasta, with well made pasta.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
I love what Bryan’s doing at Escape and what Mike is doing at Pig and Prince in Montclair. Also Razza and Bistro La Source in Jersey City.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
My father, my grandmother, and John Lennon—I enjoy his music from my mom enjoying it. Love his values.
Check out VB3 online or stop in to try Chef Colletti’s modern take on classic Italian favorites.
475 Washington Blvd.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.