Philadelphia Chef Jeff Michaud is a man on the move. He can usually be found at his Broad Street home to hearty, earthen North Italian fare – Osteria – but is also regularly traveling to Italy with the La Via Gaia Italian culinary tours, which he runs alongside his wife, Claudia.
“We just got back yesterday with 17 people—incredible food, amazing experience, gorgeous weather,” says Michaud. “One experience is greater than the last – be it in Verdamo or Lavitazeo in Milan – and the trip gets better every time.”
Though Michaud is talking about yet-another La Via Gaia tour, the chef could be talking about his life in Italian cooking, one that found him opening Osteria in 2007 with co-founders Jeff Benjamin and Marc Vetri, getting nominated for “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation in 2008 and winning a “Best Mid-Atlantic Chef” Beard Award in 2011. Osteria was sold to Urban Outfitters in 2016, then bought-back by Michaud and Michael Schulson in 2018, and then the renowned chef then became the sole owner in 2022.
As a co-operator of La Via Gaia and as the owner-chef at Osteria, what Michaud wants diners and travelers to feel is what he felt when he lived in Bergamo, Lombardo Italy, from 2003 to 2005, a trek that found him working at family-owned butcher shops and intimate, Michelin-starred restaurants across Northern Italy.
“I don’t want you to ever feel like a tourist; instead, I want you to take part in the little gems of artisan culture and food — as if you live there, as I did.”
Michaud’s grandmother was a cook and baker — “we’re talking elaborate wedding cakes with fountains and staircases” — and his family owned a famed New Hampshire pizzeria. Michaud says he started by folding pizza boxes for $2 an hour, and by the time he got to butchering skills, Michaud met Philly’s Marc Vetri. Along with learning a greater love of all-Italian cuisine, Michaud wound up becoming Ristorante Vetri’s sous chef.
“Before Vetri, I thought Italian cuisine was spaghetti, meatballs, red sauce and mispronunciations of bruschetta,” laughs Michaud. “And I love Americanized Italian food. What hit me early on was how simple the preparations were, how every item was cut and made to each order, and the attention to where each ingredient came from – all that opened my eyes to what true Italian cuisine is.”
Nothing, however – especially as it relates to cuisine served at Osteria – affects Michaud’s vision like meeting his wife and her family and living in Italy.
“Immersing myself fully within the culture, 24/7, made all the difference,” he says. “Super fresh, super simple – that’s my mother-in-law’s recipes as reflected in my book (‘Eating Italy: A Chef’s Culinary Adventure’). My mother-in-law loves my cooking, too, even though she has her opinions of when I go my own way as any artist does.”
Younger Brother Pictures
This artist’s route to owning Osteria comes down to opportunity and timing. With that, Osteria is fully Michaud’s homebase, one that sees its outdoor patio blossoming. Indoors or outdoors, with Executive Chef Matthew Arcomone, Michaud still traffics in Osteria’s 16-year-old legacy dishes such as the Lombarda pizza, the chicken liver rigatoni and the wood-grilled chicken and steak.
“It’s not archaic to want to cook with natural fire or with the least amount of ingredients on a plate,” says Michaud. “That just happens to be true to Italian cuisine, with our takes on that tradition, our interpretation.”
To that twist in tradition, Michaud points out how his happy hour Bucatini Cacio e Pepe with pecorino, black pepper, olive oil is a true Cacio e Pepe. For dinner, however, that same Cacio e Pepe might have Guanciale, a thin piece of pork cheek, and fava beans.
“We look at our menu at Osteria seasonally, regionally, and our techniques singularly Italian – Michel’s cooking has the soul of your grandmother, but the plating of a Michelin-starred chef,” says Michaud, currently on his spring menu but already looking ahead. “Thinking for summer, already, just beyond spring, we’re looking at zucchini-stuffed calamari with squid ink rice – more super simple, and more like something I could get near my mother-in-law’s house.”
With that, Michaud ties his tour life and his restaurant life to his family and what it means to their taste buds and skill levels. “My wife is super-detail-oriented in all things, especially the tours,” Michaud laughs. “At Osteria, she tastes everything because she has the best-ever palates, and a great nose. Biggest fan. Biggest critic.”
With that, Osteria – though owned and operated by Jeff Michaud – represents all-things family.
“Osteria is a platform for all that I have experienced in Italy – to express what I saw and I made on these experiential tours off the beaten path – but executing my vision for Osteria comes down to my team and how we work together. When I and my team are excited about a dish I’ve experienced in Italy, I want you to be that excited as well. Whether on one of our tours or at Osteria, it should be like walking into the house of a family member, where the doors are open, and we’ve known you for years.”
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