Welcome to Chef Reveals, a new feature to Eater Philly and @eater_philly on Instagram, in which we display the day-to-day essentials of the city's top chefs — all shot from above by the very talented TommyBaboon. This week's edition: the kitchen must-haves of chef Joe Cicala, the brilliant culinary mind behind Le Virtù and Brigantessa.
Philly hasn't been the same since Joe Cicala came to town. He, along with his partners Francis Cretarola and Cathy Lee, who adhere to a strict code of regional authenticity about their restaurants, have changed the Italian game in Philadelphia forever. Years of traveling to the motherland led to deep-rooted connections with its people: farmers, wine and cheese makers, musicians, and chefs — some of whom send products, others rerooted to America. Cicala is the driving force behind the authentic restaurants in South Philly, nosediving into the depths of their respective cuisines, his menus constantly showcasing recipes almost inimitable outside of his own kitchens. While Le Virtù stays Abruzzese-faithful, Brigantessa's menu is free to roam the boot's Southern parts, and both restaurants never veer from their inspired cuisine.
Explained in clockwise order from the picture above:
"Diavolini" peppers: Behind Calabria, Abruzzo's cuisine is considered the second-spiciest in in Italy, and these peppers are a key component to an Abruzzese pantry. Cicala dries them all summer long, so come winter, he's got some something to keep you warm. "I try to recreate everything as if it were done by an Abruzzese housewife. I believe the positive energy and passion for old world craft reflects in the final dish."
The "Chitarra": This is how he cuts spaghetti. Pasta dough is simply rolled over the chitarra (Italian for guitar) strings. The device is most popular in Abruzzo, and like the rest of his menu, reenforces his "everything by hand" sensibilities.
The cleaver: because "we practice whole animal butchery at Le Virtù."
"Paglia e fieno" or "straw and hay" pasta: Half green/half yellow tagliatelle-cut pasta . The green strands are made by blanching and pureeing stinging nettles, which are in season in the colder months. Usually, it gets some meat ragu, currently duck at Le Virtù.
Italian and U.S. passports: Cicala's wife (and Brigantessa/Le Virtù pastry chef Angela Ranalli Cicala), and son Augustino are all duel citizens. The three travel often using their European Union passport ("mostly because we can choose which line to stand in while passing through customs"). Cicala has collected 32 stamps combined from both books, traveling 2-3 times a year to Italy for research and fun.
Rosemary, basil, and sage: the trinity of Italian herbs, grown in Le Virtù's garden.
Truffle and shaver: Elevate your evening with a snowfall of truffle shavings. "I love to showcase earthiness in our cuisine, especially in the fall and winter. Truffles are treated as a luxury item abroad, but in Italy, they are very much part of the vernacular cucina."
"Cacciatorini": small pork "hunter's style" salami. Because a trip to either restaurant must include something from their house-made salumi program.
"Pancetta staccato": or Pancetta in a vice. That's a handmade device, built with two flat pieces of firewood, thanks to Brigantessa, and some bolts tightened by wing nuts. As the pancetta cures, Cicala tightens the wing nuts to flatten out the meat. The result is an oblong oval slice instead of a round or rectangular one. The mechanism can be found in northern Abruzzo, all the way into Emilia Romania.
Chefs, professional cooks, and home cooks, join in on the fun with hashtag #EaterChefReveals on a similar shot in your kitchen. We'll regram our favorites at @eater_philly.