He’s a well-known chef, restauranteur, author and television personality. Victor Rallo has enjoyed 42 years in the industry he loves. Rallo’s popular area restaurants – Birravino, Undici, Surf Bar and Grille, and Pastavino – have a steady, devoted following. Drawing on his love of Italian ingredients and his Sicilian heritage, Rallo notched five seasons as the host and producer of his own PBS series, “Eat! Drink! Italy!” and “On the Road with Vic Rallo” where he explores the culture and cooking of Italy’s 20 culinary regions. Rallo also developed his own private wine collection that offers his signature Chianti Classico, Pinot Grigio, Rose, Sparkling Rose and Cabernet, yet all this almost didn’t happen.
“I graduated from Seton Hall Law School,” he said. “My parents really wanted me to have a law career, but hospitality is in my genes. I was born with it. I’m a second generation restaurant person. I started in the business with my father when I was 17. I think I knew the whole time I was in law school that my life was going to be in the kitchen, and now it’s 42 years later and I don’t have one regret. And food is still in our genes. This March, my son, Jake, graduated Cornell School of Hotel and Hospitality and who knows what his kids will do?”
What is your favorite way to relax on a day off? I love to take my power boat out on the water. There is something truly tranquil, uplifting and spiritual there. It’s about as far from the restaurant kitchen experience as you can find. And in those very rare times, I like to be at my home in Puerto Rico with a surfboard in my hand.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? Salt. Salt has a place in every recipe, and the proper use of salt can really make or break a dish. I like a fine sea salt in most cases, but there are times when coarse or some of the more gourmet salts work. The trick is learning to master it. Most people put too much salt into dishes. I also honor my Italian heritage with fresh tomatoes and “materia prima,” the prime ingredients. Whatever you’re cooking, use the best and don’t overwhelm the recipe with too many ingredients.
What is your favorite item in your kitchen? I have a wood-burning pizza oven right outside the door of my kitchen at home. There is something wonderfully primal about cooking with wood. It’s the purest expression – after all, that’s how cooking started. Whether it’s a fresh whole fish, a pizza, meats, it all tastes so good from a wood burning oven. Cooking with wood and mastering the heat takes time, but the effort is well worth it.
Anything else you want to share? At Birravino, we always prepared our homemade pasta in the basement, but now we have a temperature-controlled room upstairs called “Il Laboratorio Della Pasta” where we make our fresh pasta every day from noon to 8 pm. You can watch our pasta pros create your dinner. I’m also excited to be in Rose season, which started around April 15 and goes roughly through mid-September. We have all the new vintage Roses. These special wines are the freshest expression of Italian wines, so enjoy them while they are here. My advice to the home cooks is to keep it simple.
What is your favorite at home recipe?
This has been one of Victor’s most popular and most requested recipes ever! Now he’s sharing it with you!
2 pounds each ground beef, pork and veal
2 pounds bread soaked in water (soaked weight should be two pounds)
½ cup garlic, chopped and browned in olive oil
2 cups grated cheese
¼ cups fresh parsley finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 300.
Combine all ingredients and thoroughly mix by hand.
Form into 2 oz. meatballs, pan fry them and then place onto an unlined cookie sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown.