Michele Baldacci grew up in Florence as part of a family that made every meal fresh. As chef at Clean Plates-approved Locanda Vini e Olii—an Italian restaurant in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn located in the former neighborhood pharmacy—Baldacci still creates every meal by using the best, seasonal ingredients available. Beyond this foundation of freshness, the chef aspires to expand diners’ horizons: “We aren’t serving safe food here,” he says. I recently sat down with Baldacci to chat about his vision for the restaurant, that famous duck dish, advice for home chefs and more.
Q: How is Locanda Vini e Olii different from other Italian restaurants?
A: We want to expand the horizons of our diners. A restaurant that is part of the community can do that. We can serve one unusual or unexpected item, and once people trust us, they will continue to try new things. I don’t want to serve the obvious dishes, even though some of them I love to eat. We aren’t serving safe food here. I think it’s a great time to be serving food that can be somewhat unfamiliar—it’s getting easier to serve this kind of food. People are looking for things that are interesting and new, but still within a tradition they are familiar with.
Q: Your duck entrée—grilled duck breast served with chickpeas and a shallot, fig marmalade—has gotten a lot of attention from the media. What’s the secret behind this dish?
A: It’s a very simple, delicious dish. The duck breast is first marinated in honey. It is very important to let the meat rest after it is grilled. Then we serve it sliced with chickpeas as a simple accompaniment. What brings the dish to the next level is the shallot and fig marmalade.
Q: If you were going to dine in Locanda Vini e Olii tonight—what would be your perfect meal?
A: For a pasta, I would have the maltagliati with roasted mushrooms. Thyme in the pasta dough makes this dish really interesting. It’s served with golden chanterelles, chiodini, and royal trumpets. I also loved braised meats, so I would probably have the braised short ribs. I’m cooking them now with red wine, bay leaves, and red onion. The braised meat here changes every day.
Q: What’s next for Locanda Vini e Olii?
A: I want to keep pushing the boundaries. I plan on using more game, including squab, partridge, and Scottish pheasant. I want to continue to deliver a diverse experience to our customers. I also want to continue to build a community of people who love food and to answer any questions my customers might have. That’s what makes being a chef so rewarding, connecting with the customers and offering them something new and refreshing.
Q: Do you have any advice or tips for cooking at home?
A: Don’t use too many ingredients. Some cooks think the more the better, but some of the best dishes are the simplest ones. A lot of cooks are also overly dependent on liquids like wine and broth to flavor their dishes. I don’t use broth when I’m braising meats. A dependence on broth means everything winds up tasting of it. A little water and choosing the right ingredients will yield better results when braising at home.
Chef Michele Baldacci image by Catherine de Zagon.