Restaurateur Giulio Miceli has spent the last 20 years serving much more than the finest authentic Italian cuisine in North America.
“The most invigorating aspect of this business for me is being involved in the dining experience,” says Miceli, co-owner of one of Vancouver’s most sought-after restaurants, La Terrazza, a perfect blend of authentic Italian cuisine and British Columbia’s freshest ingredients.
“Whether it’s recommending a very unique wine from Southern Italy, where I’m from, or creating a specific dish on the evening of an anniversary — seeing the patron so happy that they send you a card in the mail a week later saying, ‘Thank you so much for making our evening so special’ — that is for sure the catalyst for me.”
But Miceli’s transformation from professional soccer player in Italy to world renowned restaurateur in Vancouver isn’t as random as it seems.
“Both careers are similar in the sense you have to actually have passion for it,” he says. “You can’t be lackadaisical with either career — you have to be very focused, you need to persevere, and when you have that passion, it carries you right through in every aspect.”
Miceli’s parents emigrated to Vancouver from Calabria in Southern Italy. He cultivated his “front of the house” chops — the management, the “experience” side of the restaurant business — at Quattro on Fourth in Kitsilano. There he was mentored by Antonio Corsi, a native of Rome, not far from Miceli’s own origins. They hit it off, and Corsi inspired the young Miceli with his culinary creativity and wine expertise.
“Wine is life, it’s part of Italian culture, and it goes in unison with food,” says Miceli, whose restaurant, La Terrazza, is a regular on Wine Spectator’s top 100 best wine lists in the world, featuring 2,500 bins and 40,000 bottles. “Italians, we enjoy our wine with the food — they become a marriage.”
Quattro was far more than a training ground for the future restaurateur. Meceli met his two business partners there as well — Iqbal Grewal, co-owner of Quattro, and Gennaro Iorio, the executive chef, whose mother is from Florence and father from Naples. The chef’s father was a butcher and baker by trade, expertise the young chef would translate to culinary perfection at La Terrazza years later.
“We got all the recipes for our bread from [Iorio’s father],” says Miceli. “Our bread is all made in house. It’s exquisite, it’s fantastic, and we do a variety — focaccia bread, traditional sourdough, grissini homemade breadsticks. We prepare our own crostini. Chef Gennaro is also well-known in the city for preparing some of the best beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, and braised meats in the city.”
After four and a half years at Quattro, a new location opened up on the edge of Yaletown, and Miceli — and his colleagues — thought it was time for a change.
“When I saw the location for the very first time, I fell in love with it. It was a brand-new location — it was an empty shell,” says Miceli, who recalls how barren and undeveloped the area was at the time. But six months later, in 1998, 24-year-old Iorio, 27-year-old Miceli, and 31-year-old Grewal went for their dream and created La Terrazza. “We had a lot of energy and conviction to do it, because it was a very risky commitment since this whole area was new.”
Though it took some guts for the young trio to prove themselves on their own, one thing they knew inside and out was fine Italian gastronomy.
“The core of Italian cuisine is actually quite simplistic because it’s all about fresh, exuberant natural ingredients,” says Miceli. “The culture in Italy thrives off of natural organic produce, and they have a very agricultural background when approaching all aspects of their food — whether it’s their meats where they are drying cold cuts, savoury meat dishes, or they’re planting the freshest produce as possible.” He also notes that Italians love to eat produce in season, unlike the typical North American palate used to eating a vegetable or fruit year-round.
Though in the mid 90s it was difficult to access authentic Italian products, the Italian Chamber of Commerce took the lead, opening up trade. Now, Miceli is able to source the most authentic ingredients straight from Italy, such as burrata, buffalo mozzarella, rare white truffles from Alba in Piedmont, Northern Italy, and a wide range of extra virgin olive oils like the spicier southern ones to more mild northern oils famous for their beautiful viscosity and freshness.
“Executing and creating great Italian food is about not over-complicating the dish, because the ingredients have to come forth, they have to show off,” Miceli says. “For example, Italy’s extra virgin olive oil is exquisite. You want to have integrity in the dish, you don’t want to mask it with too many sauces and too many ingredients where you lose that quality.”
Part of Miceli’s quest for an unforgettable dining experience includes adding local ingredients, such as sourcing oysters and fresh seafoods for daily specials, going to local farms for Alberta’s triple Angus reserve beef, or a succulent duck breast.
Sourcing from British Columbia is “part of our identity. Not the majority of our identity, but it complements our identity,” he says. “It’s also about having respect for where you were brought up and the new life that we have in Vancouver. That’s why my parents immigrated here — for more opportunity for prosperity. I think it’s wonderful to incorporate both entities — the tradition my parents brought with them and the new environment of British Columbia.”
Chinese Text by Zhao Wen English Text by Lindsay Wallace