A Philadelphia native who grew up cooking alongside his Sicilian grandmother, chef Marc Vetri has found a path that expresses both his Italian roots and the city that he calls home. Vetri began his culinary career in California at Wolfgang Puck's Granita, before heading to Bergamo, Italy, to continue his training in classic Italian cuisine. Following his return to the United States, it wasn't long before the chef returned to Philadelphia to open his eponymous flagship, Vetri, in 1998—located at the former site of Georges Perrier's venerable Le Bec-Fin, a longtime icon of the city's fine-dining scene.
Since then, Vetri has sunk his roots deeper into his Philadelphia community, opening six more restaurants: Osteria, Amis, Alla Spina, Lo Spiedo and two locations of Pizzeria Vetri. The restaurants work closely with local children's charities, including the chef’s own Vetri Foundation. But ironically, for a long time, the chef didn't have a proper kitchen himself. So shortly after moving into his Philadelphia brownstone—which he shares with his wife, Megan, and their three children—Vetri concluded a remodel was in order.
"I decided, you know, I'm 46 years old; I own a bunch of restaurants; I need a home kitchen," he says with a laugh.
The original kitchen and dining area were separated by a wall, which Vetri and designer Michael Gruber decided to remove as the first step of the renovation process. But the newly opened space revealed another spatial challenge: the fundamental narrowness of the house.
"You're sort of limited with the width of these townhomes," explains Vetri. "It's 18 feet [wide] in the front, but then it narrows to 16 feet where the kitchen is. ... I would've liked to have wall-unit ovens and an extra dishwasher and some induction, but there was really only room for one 60-inch stove.
"But, you know," he adds, "[the kitchen] is made for the house. You just work around it."
Ample counter space was essential for this chef, especially because his children require plenty of room when they join him to prepare weekend meals. Because of the narrow shape of the room, Vetri and Gruber settled on an 11-foot-long island topped with a 2-inch-thick slab of Danby marble. Altogether, Gruber estimates that the structure weighs more than a ton.
"It was extremely heavy," recalls Gruber. "Down in the basement area we actually had to install supports to carry the load. It looks easy, but there was a bit of engineering involved."
Set inside the island is the chef's commercial-grade range, which boasts not only four burners and a griddle, but also a French stovetop. Unusual in residential appliances, this type of stovetop features a circular cast-iron plate that radiates heat from the center, powered by a gas flame. As opposed to a traditional gas burner, which heats pots around the edges, this range provides more control when it comes to regulating temperature, since the plate is hottest in the center and coolest around the sides.
Other appliances scattered throughout the kitchen include a state-of-the-art espresso machine and a wine refrigerator built directly into the wall. Though Vetri doesn't collect, he keeps a variety of beers handy (such as those from Baladin, a brewery located in Italy's Langhe region), as well as some of his favorite wines, including selections from Braida, Marchesi di Grésy, Avignonesi and Gaja.
Beside the bay window sit a table and chairs, accented by pendant lamps fashioned from Campari bottles. Alongside, on the far wall, is one of the kitchen's main visual features: a long pantry shuttered by a series of large, custom-made, sliding barn doors, behind which Vetri stores pots and pans.
"The house is an old brownstone, and it has the old, original hardwood floors," says Vetri. "So I like to stay with that sort of design, almost like a farmhouse look, because that's the era of the house."
For Vetri, however, the most important consideration in building his home kitchen was not aesthetic. Rather, he wanted to create a space that was both simple and functional—one that could easily accommodate a demanding chef and his entire family.
"Basically, we just made those two rooms into one," says Vetri. "We just made it nice."