While being a chef wasn’t in Nick Stefanelli’s original career plans, Italy (and it’s food) was and still is a common thread in the arc of his work. Stefanelli, the executive chef at Bibiana Osteria started out studying fashion design in Milan, when his interests switched over to food. “There is a profound food culture in Italy that’s not going on here,” he says. While “food was always in his life,” Stefanelli switched his focus to becoming a chef after traveling through Italy.
During our conversation, Nick put Italian food in a context that rang true for me. “You can’t put a label on what Italian food is. It’s not just pasta and tomato sauce–it’s a culture, ways of doing things, the knowledge of knowing your grower and the relationships that you build around the cuisine,” says Stefanelli. “I try to reproduce that here, rather than import products. I apply techniques and sauces of Italian cookery to the food that’s available here. If a cuisine stands still, it will fall to the wayside. You need evolution.”
‘Stefanelli making risotto’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’
Born and raised in Maryland, Nick returned to the area to study at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD and later went on to work at Fiamma in New York City. Without getting into the tired argument of the differences in food and restaurants between NYC and DC, Nick pointed out one advantage unique to DC: our local produce. “We have the [Chesapeake] bay, mountains in Virginia, and we get beautiful produce to pull from not only Virginia and Maryland, but even from Pennsylvania down to North Carolina. Our seasons are extended here which helps, too,” he says.
According to Nick, another good part about the DC food scene is the influx of talent. “We have a growing workforce and that helps with staffing [a restaurant],” he says. “As DC keeps evolving the way it’s going, it will be exciting to see where it will be in ten years.” That being said, he does wish that DC would host it’s own food and wine festival to bring more attention to the area.
If you know the DC chef scene at all, you’re already familiar with Stefanelli’s accolades–the Metropolitan Restaurant Association in Washington’s 2010 Rising Star Chef, 2011 James Beard semi-finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, along with winning several local competitions such as the Taste of the Nation’s Master Chef Showdown–the list goes on. But Stefanelli remains humble and downplayed all of the awards and successes. “I’m fortunate enough to do something I love. I have a good group with me [at Bibiana] that makes it easier,” he says. “There’s still the challenge of remaining consistent, maintaining success and growing from it. To get recognition is ice, but it’s just the icing on the cake.”
Check back at 3 PM for Nick’s delicious recipe for risotto frutti di mare.