Sicilian by birth and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, award-winning Chef Vincenzo Betulia began his illustrious career at a young age in Paul and Joe Barolotta’s Ristorante Bartolotta, setting him on the path to becoming a Bartolotta protégé. He attended Kendall Culinary School in Chicago and later moved to Naples; there, he worked his way up to head chef at Campiello before opening his namesake restaurant, Osteria Tulia in 2013, and Bar Tulia, an Italian gastropub and craft cocktail bar, in 2014. Betulia opened The French – his third restaurant and Naples’ first traditional brasserie – in January 2017.
NI: What was your vision for The French?
Betulia: My overall vision for The French was to create a classic, quintessential French brasserie with contemporary undertones that is inviting, jovial, and bustling – a feeling of Paris and NYC. This is shared both in the food program and atmosphere.
Your other restaurants are Italian – what drew you to choosing French cuisine for your new restaurant?
My mentor, Paul Bartolotta, worked for Paul Bocuse, the Troigrois Brothers in Roanne, and also worked at the world-famous Taillevent in Paris. When Paul opened his restaurants back in Wisconsin, he started with an Italian trattoria, and then moved into a French bistro. I’m essentially following in his footsteps. I worked at the James Beard award-winning Lake Park Bistro when Paul launched this concept in Milwaukee back in the 90’s. It was a major success and here I gained an appreciation and affinity for the cuisine.
What was the most important thing Paul Bartolotta taught you when it comes to French gastronomy?
It’s not really about French gastronomy. What I learned was the main differences and similarities between the French and Italian cuisine. It’s all based on simplicity, honesty, and passion. This is very hard to understand if your heart is not in the game. I learned – and utilize to this day – the French culinary technique at culinary school in Chicago.
What will be on the menu?
Classic dishes like duck a l’orange, steak frites, escargot de bourgogne, steak tartare, and more modern dishes like provencale crevette “en chemise” with sauce pistou and lamb loin carpaccio with grilled local eggplant, goat cheese, and charmoulah. The North African flavors of Morocco and Algeria were quickly adapted and integrated in the French repertoire of cuisine.
What do you take into consideration when sourcing your ingredients?
First and foremost, seasonality – local eggplant, local tomatoes, local greens, so on and so forth. We have created strong relationships with farmers around the area through Osteria Tulia. We always want to support the local growers.
What is your favorite dish?
The whole menu is my favorite dish because they are dishes I have ordered in Paris, New York, or Los Angeles, and they are dishes that I’m attracted to because of their soulful nature. They are comforting, simple, and honest. Who can resist grilled hanger steak with frites?
Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
The inspiration comes from the soul. I didn’t create the dishes, nor did I recreate them. However, they do show my cooking style through and through. But in the end they are simple dishes that people can relate to.
Tell me about the wine, beer, and cocktails menu.
It is an extensive wine list with more than 200 labels, each of which I tasted and hand selected. We created relationships with Taittinger Champagne, so that is our house pour champagne, and we also serve great French beer like Kronenbourg 1664 and wonderful French liqueurs. The craft cocktail list created by myself and bar manager Brian Hawley (an Osteria Tulia veteran) features the recognizable flavors of France like lavender, walnuts, beets, rose petals, and black walnuts.
What kind of brunch will you serve starting in February?
It will comprise of typical and classic French breakfast and brunch items like omelettes, crepes, champagne, mimosa, kir royale, oysters, and steak tartare.