Le Virtu, the acclaimed restaurant that’s been cooking the dishes of Italy’s Abruzzo region on East Passyunk Avenue for over a decade, has a new chef running the show — but he’s not really new at all. Apolinar Sanchez, who goes by Poli, has been with Le Virtu almost since the beginning and is now in the role of executive chef. He’s getting an assist from Massimo Conocchioli, who previously worked at Le Virtu and comes back as a consulting chef and “salumi master.”
Since Sanchez, taking over for Damon Menapace, has been at Le Virtu longer than anyone else in that kitchen, he’s already very well versed in how the restaurant operates. Diners shouldn’t expect to notice a difference in the lamb arrosticini, maccheroni alla mugnaia, tagliatelle with boar ragu, scrippelle, brodetto, and other Le Virtu favorites.
The chef, who’s originally from Puebla, Mexico, “has been making and tossing the pasta since the day he started. While his name might not be familiar to guests, his cooking is; his hands have touched nearly all of the artisanal dishes that have emerged from the kitchen during the past decade,” Le Virtu owners Francis Cratil-Cretarola and Cathy Lee said in a statement.
Cratil-Cretarola and Lee refer to him as the “captain” of the kitchen staff, and “beloved among the entire staff, front and back of house.”
Abruzzo-born Conocchioli, who set up the restaurant’s salumi program in 2009, helped train Sanchez and helped the restaurant maintain its Abruzzesiness, the owners says. He’ll be making the salumi again, and lending a hand with designing the seasonal menus.
Conocchioli and Menapace both suggested Sanchez for the head role.
Menapace, meanwhile, is leaving for Primal Supply Meats, Heather Marold Thomason’s butcher shop that supplies locally sourced meats to several top Philly restaurants. Thomason and Menapace met while working together at Fishtown’s Kensington Quarters, which originally opened with a butcher shop inside. Another connection: Menapace previously cooked for Marc Vetri at Osteria and Alla Spina. Vetri is a partner in Primal Supply.