Interview with Mario Buccellati

I am obsessed with Chef Mario Buccellati’s vegan cuisine.  I first had the opportunity to attend a 7-course open air dining experience of Mario’s back in September and have been enjoying his menu from Galioto’s regularly ever since.  Read on to find out the inside scoop on what he would order from Galioto’s, a message to non-vegans about giving vegan food a try, and who he is outside of the kitchen.  A truly interesting read! 

1. You know I am obsessed with Galioto’s. Tell us about it!

It’s been a rewarding experience to help relaunch Galioto’s. When the owners asked me to consult, I jumped at the opportunity to help relaunch the first plant-based delicatessen in Little Italy, located on the iconic Mulberry Street. 

My vision for the menu was to have as many house-made and gluten-free items as possible. 

The plant-based deli ham, chicken cutlets, meatballs, mozzarella, smoked provolone, feta, calamari, and ricotta are all made in-house.

Since Italian food is notoriously loaded with gluten, I wanted to reduce the amount of gluten in the house-made ‘meats’. I was able to accomplish this by supplementing the seitan with other plant proteins like tofu and cannellini beans, which aid for better digestion. 

In addition, over half of the menu items are gluten-free, including spaghetti & meatballs, hearts of palm calamari, the crispy carrozza, and zeppoles.

Interview with Mario Buccellati

2. What’s the top “must try” item on the menu/fan favorite?

The crowd favorite has been the Fig-Etta Bout’ It sandwich. It’s made with smoky balsamic glazed beets, caramelized onions, and arugula on thick rosemary focaccia lathered with ricotta and fig jam. It’s a harmonious plant-forward marriage of savory & sweet. 

Some other goto items worth trying are the caesar salad with an added chicken cutlet as well as the gluten-free hearts of palm calamari and zeppoles.

3.  You trained in Italy.  How does that influence the vegan cuisine you prepare today?

Like many chefs, I traveled back to my roots. Being a third-generation Italian, my training in Italy was a formative experience. I studied at the macrobiotic school, Gioia di Vivere, under the direction of Chef Stefania and her family in Tuscany. There, I developed a stronger relationship with dough. It opened up a rabbit hole of many different pasta shapes and bread.

The trip taught me simplicity. Upon my return to New York, I doubled down on cooking Italian food. Plus, I now carry those new memories and the standard of how delicious Italian food really is.

4. What inspired your love of cooking?

Growing up, I was a picky eater. I realized at a young age that I could create the flavor that I wanted to experience. Getting home from school, I would race to the kitchen to cook. My parents are both excellent cooks and they played a big role in helping me to develop my palette. 

The art of cooking gives me a remarkable sense of joy. There’s a wonderful connection that’s created when you serve others and yourself. Cooking stimulates all five senses and gives us the opportunity to be creative and hospitable. 

5. What’s your favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Making pasta is a meditative art. It’s a labor of love. I would say tortellini in brodo is my favorite dish to prepare and eat especially during the winter months. 

When friends and family come to my home, it’s always fun to show them how to form the shape of tortellini. There’s a special moment when the dough takes shape. It evokes a look of awe, which is priceless.

6.  Why are you passionate about vegan cuisine?

My passion stems from the idea that food is energy. After viewing factory farming videos and reading Kimberly Sydner’s book, The Beauty Detox Solution, it made me think twice about what I was putting in my body. I learned that 80% of our daily energy is used for digestion. 

As a chef, I wanted to incorporate this knowledge and began to predominately cook vegan cuisine. I never felt a sense of limitation. In fact, I felt inspired to try many new ingredients and techniques. 

I also want people to walk away from a meal that I’ve prepared feeling better than they did when they sat down. Not just from the pleasure of eating, but rather from the physical feeling. At its best, vegan cuisine doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and bloated. 

7.  What would you say to non-vegans who are curious about trying vegan cuisine?

Listen to your body. Ask yourself if the food you’re eating is stimulating your brain and tastebuds or if it is truly making you feel healthy and energized. Take it one step at a time by cutting down your meat and dairy intake. Once you notice the improved feeling of wellness, it becomes easier to choose the right foods for your body. 

8.  What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t in the kitchen?

I’m a creative at heart. A lot of people would be surprised to know that I’m an avid guitar player. The guitar gives me another outlet to express myself. I’m also a big fan of stand-up comedy, meditation, and reading. 

9. If you had one day left on earth what would you do?

I would tell everyone I know how much I loved them and if I could, I would host the biggest feast/party possible. It would be a grand celebration with the best food and music.

10. Words to live by?

Never regret a single day of your life. Good days give happiness, bad days give experience, the worst days give lessons, and the best days give memories. So no day is wasted.