Chef Brad Spence is Marc Vetri's partner in Amis Trattoria at 13th and Waverly Streets. Amis is the black sheep of the traditionally straight-laced Vetri family of restaurants. From rock and roll blasting through the sound system, to keeping meat off the menu on Mondays, Spence is the driving creative force behind the atmosphere that goes a little off the beaten path to get the job done. Eater sat down with Spence to talk about his philosophy for the restaurant, Adidas track suits, and getting Carl Weathers involved in his bid to become The People's Best New Chef.
Marc Vetri knows how to run a chef "farm system," if you will. His brightest chefs ultimately become owners in their own right in the Vetri network. Can you tell us about your experience with Marc as a teacher?
Marc is a teacher first and foremost. That's what he likes to do, because it gives ownership to everyone on the line. But, it's not like he hands out restaurants to people. If he sees talent and dedication, there's always that possibility you can become a partner in the Vetri family. It's encouraging as a young chef to see that if you play your cards right, you can become an owner in this business with a guy like Marc.
Where did you get your start? Was being a chef always a dream?
It was. I remember asking for pots and pans as a kid, because I wanted to be a cook. My dad wasn't really keen on the idea. He thought I was nuts. But, my mom said that I should have the opportunity to be whatever I wanted. But, she passed away when I was 8 years old. I think that had a lot to do with my decision to be a chef.
Where were you before Vetri?
I was CIA-trained, and then worked in NYC with Tom Colicchio at Craftbar and Mario Batali at Casa Mono. I came to Philly to work at Vetri after that.
Amis is definitely the black sheep of the Vetri family. Was that your doing or Marc's doing?
Both of us, I guess. I wanted to open a modern trattoria, and at the time, Marc was looking to expand. The cooking we do here is consistent with Vetri, for sure. But, I always wanted to make things even more simple. Just two ingredients on the plate, but have the atmosphere be more fun, more laid back. It's louder in here. We play a lot of rock and roll through the dining room. The environment is different for chefs and diners alike.
You've just launched the Beast of Amis whole animal specials. What exactly is that?
Well, from Tuesday through Saturday we do a whole animal. Whatever we get in. Lamb, swordfish, goat. I don't know why people don't do this more. We run three separate special dishes per animal, and once we're out, we move on to the next animal. It's pretty awesome.
You're very involved in social media, Twittering often. That's definitely not something we ever thought we would see from a Vetri establishment. How did you get started with that?
Actually, it was Marc who started me. He's very involved with Twitter, and he set up my account. At first, I was very hesitant, but I love it now. We use it all the time. Also, we have these contests on Facebook where if you can guess the ingredient we take a picture of, we invite people in to have family meal with us before shift. It's a lot of fun.
Speaking of Twitter, we noticed you were tweeting at Barack Obama, Bill Cosby, and Carl Weathers to help you out when you were nominated for Food & Wine Magazine's People's Best New Chef. What was that all about?
Well, I figured I needed some steam behind my name, so I wanted to get some support from other underdogs. We were just having fun with it. But, Carl Weathers actually tweeted us back, so now I can tell people I'm Twitter friends with Carl Weathers.
You're known for a propensity to wear track suits all the time. You are living up to the South Jersey stereotype quite well. What's the deal there?
Well, I am from South Jersey. And, I am hoping to get sponsored by Adidas somehow. Maybe they'll make some shelltops I can wear in the kitchen, and chef's whites. I have been tweeting at them like crazy, and tweeting at Prince Markie Dee from The Fat Boys and Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC. Maybe you guys can help make it happen.