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“Why we need a movement for more transparency about the sourcing of the food we buy and eat everyday” With Chef Michael Gallina

I would love to see more transparency to the sourcing of the food we buy and eat everyday, from the supermarket to restaurants, in hopes of encouraging more people to eat the food that grows in season around them, or at least ask where it comes from. We often ask “why food is so expensive”, […]


I would love to see more transparency to the sourcing of the food we buy and eat everyday, from the supermarket to restaurants, in hopes of encouraging more people to eat the food that grows in season around them, or at least ask where it comes from. We often ask “why food is so expensive”, but what we really should be asking a lot of the time is “why is it so cheap”? There is a cost to everything, and cheap food comes with serious consequences for our health and our communities. If more land could be used for growing food for human consumption, more small farms could exist and thrive, access would be greater, and costs would go down. We do what we can as a restaurant to support this, I wish it was possible for more restaurants to do the same.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Gallina, Executive Chef at Vicia. As Executive Chef at Vicia, Michael Gallina is thrilled to bring a taste of the world he’s explored back home to the people of St. Louis. Sourcing fresh ingredients every day, Michael works alongside his team of sous chefs and cooks, and creates dishes that continually change and evolve with the seasons. Since opening, Vicia has received 4-stars from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and has been named a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist, one of the 12 Best New Restaurants in America by Eater, a Bon Appetit Top 50 New Restaurant and a Best New Restaurant in America by Esquire. Most recently, Michael was named a Best New Chef in America 2018 by Food & Wine.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?

Becoming a chef was not always my career dream (I thought I’d be a pro baseball player), but when I realized that traditional college wasn’t the right fit for me, culinary school seemed like an exciting option. I moved out west to San Francisco and finally felt like I had found my place. But even as a young cook, I don’t think I ever dreamed that I’d get to own my own restaurant one day.

What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?

I spent many years keeping my head down, working really hard for some of the best chefs in the country and learning how to be a really good cook. It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to work for Dan Barber, at Blue Hill in New York City, that the idea of being a chef started to seem like a reality. Working with Dan, having the exposure to the farmers, going to markets, and changing dishes daily based on what’s available, was a pretty new world to me at the time. He pushed me really hard, allowed me to travel and cook in some of the top kitchens in Europe, and eventually take over the chef de cuisine position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It was there that I started to really find my voice. Everything I learned in my 8+ years at Blue Hill prepared me to venture out on my own, come back to my hometown, and open Vicia.

Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?

As simple as it sounds, cooking seasonally is really my speciality. We receive several farm deliveries each week at Vicia, from vegetables to meats, and I let what comes in the door drive what dishes we create to go on the menu. When you work with really great product, you don’t have to do much to it. I focus on cooking over wood fire, or just keeping things raw, with high attention to the seasoning. We are fortunate to have a number of great local farm partners in our community that are growing and raising food the right way, which makes my job easy.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?

When I first moved to New York City I was following an opportunity to work with Chef Daniel Humm as he took over Eleven Madison Park. I had worked for Daniel in San Francisco, so even though I never stepped foot in the city, I traveled east with the hopes that it would all work out. I planned to put in my 1 year to get “New York experience” and head back out west. I didn’t know a soul, so I responded to a Craigslist ad for a roommate with a “loft” on the upper west side. When I got the keys, I was a surprised to discover that the loft was in fact the bottom bunk bed in a studio apartment with an aspiring actress who was on vocal rest and left me post it notes to communicate. Thankfully this living situation was short lived, but my time in the city thrived beyond what I had imagined possible. 1 year turned into 10, and set the course for my career.

What is your definition of success?

At this point in my career, finding balance between personal happiness and a successful business. Finding time for my family while also creating a good environment for our staff that allows them to thrive and push things forward is what it’s all about now. Definitely not what I would have said 5 years ago!

What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?

As a young cook, there are a lot of turning points where you can either let the weight of the job get to you, or as in my case, work for some great chefs who help you push through it and come out a little wiser. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors to learn from.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

We’re a young restaurant, so as we work towards our 2 year anniversary I am still pushing to make it one of the best restaurants in the country. As we continue to grow, more exciting projects may be in the pipeline, but for now, my focus is on Vicia.

What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?

Travel. Travel. Travel. Save the money you’d spend on culinary school and get out and explore the world. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The experiences you can have while dining and cooking in other countries and unfamiliar places are priceless and will inspire you in ways that can be replicated by staying in your hometown.

What is the key to creating the perfect dish?

Being inspired by the ingredients themselves. Let farmers push you into what you have to use, which is not always what you want to use. A lot of creativity can come from being challenged to work with something unfamiliar, mix that with skill, and you can create something pretty special.

It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who makes food for a living, what does this saying mean to you?

This saying is the foundation of our restaurant and how we designed our menu. We serve our dishes in a family style format in order to encourage our guests to share and interact over what’s on the table. The joy that can come from disconnecting from the daily grind and reconnecting over food is powerful and it inspired us to create Vicia.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t skip out on business classes- If you want to own your own restaurant one day, you’ll find that most of the work you do is on the business end, not cooking. Having a foundation of math and business skills should be mandatory.
  2. Remember being a chef is just as much about being a manager as it is being creative in the kitchen- As the chef, you are the leader of the cooks in your kitchen, and that means you spend most of your day teaching and training, so being a good manager is essential to being a successful chef.
  3. It’s going to take you a while to find your own voice- Starting out in the culinary world you are really just learning, and if you do it right, you keep your head down and take in as much as possible. We all want to create our own dishes and be recognized for our talents, but it takes patience and time to really discover who you are as a chef.
  4. Organization is key- There are so many moving parts to a kitchen, in order to keep your business profitable you’ve got to be a stickler for organizing your product and people, there can never be enough checklists and refrigerator clean outs each day
  5. Don’t be afraid to take risks- The food industry is a risky business to begin with, but when you have an idea you are passionate about hold true to your convictions and go for it. You never know where it will take you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see more transparency to the sourcing of the food we buy and eat everyday, from the supermarket to restaurants, in hopes of encouraging more people to eat the food that grows in season around them, or at least ask where it comes from. We often ask “why food is so expensive”, but what we really should be asking a lot of the time is “why is it so cheap”? There is a cost to everything, and cheap food comes with serious consequences for our health and our communities. If more land could be used for growing food for human consumption, more small farms could exist and thrive, access would be greater, and costs would go down. We do what we can as a restaurant to support this, I wish it was possible for more restaurants to do the same.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to cook for and why?

I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career to cook for some incredible people, from presidents to major CEOs, but the person i’m most excited to cook for is my newborn daughter. I can’t wait to show her the power of good food and hopefully inspire a new generation of engaged eaters.

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