The chefs most of us read about on a daily basis account for maybe 1-2% of the population of those that cook daily for a living. Many cooks do it for love and because it’s what they’ve always done throughout their lives. Chef Vic is a guy who has always cooked Italian, from the old school Gianotti’s to Carmine’s. If you were looking for a salt of the earth guy to run your kitchen, you wouldn’t look any further. He’s not clamoring for a twitter handle or pictorials. He just wants to cook you a great dinner and make you feel at home. But, like any chef he has his pride and a bit of ego, I loved when he says, “I think I make the best Marinara in the city.”
Our discussion was a fun one and I enjoyed the fact that his commitment and frustrations run along the same line as any “celebrity chef.” It proves being a good cook is something you can’t bullshit or hide. Vic drives every day from Crete to work in the West Loop with his good friend Sam, the owner of Viaggio. They have a friendship that I’ve rarely seen in this industry. I have a feeling in the future if you find one at a restaurant you’ll find the other.
Name Vic Perdue
Kids 2 Step Sons and 3 of my own
From Crete, Illinois
Culinary School Joliet JC
Twitter Handle Nope, whatever the hell that means.
1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Nothing actually, a small espresso
2. Place you eat most often on days off?
I have places I frequent. I don’t go out that much. On my days off I grill out and spend time with the family since I work 5-6 days a week. I do like eating out but it’s not something I do all the time. If I do go out, I like Chicago Cut, Volare, or May Street Café great Latin food. I’m here 14 hours a day so I like being home.
3. Favorite ingredient to work with?
4. If you got $1,000 how would you spend it?
Vic: On myself!
Vic: Yep (laughing)
5. First word that comes to mind when I say Michelin?
Vic: That’s obvious tires. What kind of a question is that?
CFS: I get a lot of interesting answers from the ones I’m allowed to write and the ones I’m not.
6. Favorite Charity Event that you do?
Walk for MS. My son has MS so I do as much as I can.
7. Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?
8. If you weren’t cooking, what would you do for a living?
Vic: Long Pause – that’s a hell of a question. I’d manage a restaurant. It’s all I know. I’ve done it since I was 12.
CFS: Was it a family business you started in?
Vic: I worked a lot as a kid. I shined shoes and started at a pizzeria in Crete. Mopping floors, rolling dough and Theresa Giraldo, the owner, helped me get in to Joliet and it’s all I’ve done since. I worked at Gianotti’s.
CFS: I remember Gianotti’s
Vic: Really? I started there in 1990. Those guys were old school.
CFS: You never mouthed off at Gianotti’s.
Vic: Ya no (laughs). I worked there for 11 years. The owners come in here at times which is nice. Like I said, when I was young I knew this is what I wanted to do. Everybody has to eat.
9. Most exotic vacation destination?
Vic: Hmmm….that’s a tough question. I’m not a big exotic guy…
Vic: Never been
Vic: Never Been
Sam: He doesn’t talk much either if you know what I mean.
Vic: (Laughing) I haven’t been a lot of places.
10. If you left Chicago to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
(Sam and Vic laugh) San Diego
11. Most embarrassing cooking moment?
Vic: I don’t think I have one. It’s just fucking hard work. If I give 100% at what I do nothing’s embarrassing.
CFS: No kitchen mishaps?
12. Person you would most like to cook for?
CFS: As a celebrity or like that?
Vic: I don’t care.
13. Do you have any pet peeves?
Be on time. Definitely be on time and be here 100% focused.
14. Do you have a karaoke song?
Vic: Absolutely not…I shouldn’t say that.
CFS: If you did it, what would you sing?
Vic: Sweet Caroline.
15. What’s new on your DVR?
Vic: That alien movie, Paul.
CFS: I love those guys.
Vic: Ya, they’re funny.
16. What is right/wrong with Italian cooking in Chicago?
Vic: I think people take too many short cuts. I try not to take any. I use the best olive oil, veal, chicken, tomato, Allen Brothers steaks. If you bring in the best product, it’ll be damn good. It all starts with the tomato. I think I make the best marinara.
CFS: Do you get a specific San Marzano?
Vic: Yep sometimes they differ if I have to switch like the thickness. It all starts with the marinara. It’s the base for every gravy.
CFS: It’s your mother sauce
Vic: For sure, that has to be right.
17. You were the Exec Chef at Carmine’s a large Italian place in Chicago. How is Viaggio different?
We’re obviously smaller and more homey. It’s not a corral. Here we try to make as many people happy as we can. We won’t overextend our reservation book and have people waiting 45 minutes. If you have a reservation, you have it within 10 minutes. We don’t want a line out the door. We’ve done a great job of that and we’ve been busy this summer.
18. If you didn’t cook Italian what cuisine would you want to do?
French maybe but I’m a big guy on Sushi and I’d love to learn more of that.
19. The restaurant name means journey. How would you describe the journey your food takes guests on?
Coming in and having a good time feeling at home like a Sunday dinner in an Italian home. Be able to sit and relax and let loose. Our servers bring that the most, having a good time and experiencing good food.
20. There is a lot of “traditional” Italian food in the city. You make your own sausage and other pasta do you feel you put more soul in to the food then just buying everything premade?
Ya, we do 8 finger Cavatteli and we do gnocchi. I think it’s the best way to do it. If you can do it you should. The food will be better than buying it.
21. What’s the one dish on the menu people coming in should order?
Vic: On the menu?
CFS: Is there an off the menu?
Vic: Sure. I’ll try and do anything that people want me to do if I’ve got the ingredients.
CFS: Ok I’ll make it easy so people don’t come in ordering other things. So what on the menu do you like?
Vic: Orcchietti and sausage with escarole.
Thanks for the time Chef and I look forward to coming in to Viaggio again soon. If you’ve never been, Viaggio is on 1330 West Madison. Imagine a La Scarola with no headshots and good food.
If you liked these 20 questions, check out the how Ryan Poli, Francis Brenna, Giuseppe Tentori, Charlie McKenna, Chris Pandel , Michael Muser, Curtis Duffy , Rob Katz/Kevin Boehm, Michael Taus, Chris Curren, Patricio Sandoval, Bill Terlato, and Matthias Merges answered.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe is retained as a compensated blogger by Pei Wei Asian Diner. and contributes to Eater Chicago.