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Q & A With Joe Campanale & Gabe Thompson
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Q & A With Joe Campanale & Gabe Thompson

First-time restaurateurs Joe Campanale and Gabe Thompson have recently opened the instantly successful West Village wine bar, dell’anima.  With Thompson in the kitchen and Campanale focused on the wine, the two have formed a partnership that brings a new outlook into the trendy NYC wine bar scene. Campanale brings his experience as a sommelier from Babbo to dell’Anima, where he has not only installed a rigorous Italian wine program, but also leans on his travels through Italy when creating cocktails.  Thompson spent time in various acclaimed kitchens including Le Bernardin and Del Posto, where he perfected the art of homemade pasta, including kabocha squash ravioli with almonds, brown butter and sage, as well as a splendid tagliatelle alla bolognese.  

What do you two want to be when you
grow up?

Joe: I don’t know yet. I’m having so much fun.
   

Gabe: I wanted to be a fireman, a scientist, an astronaut, an actor, a spy,
a radio DJ and a stage hand.  Somehow I ended up being a chef.

What were your first jobs in food?
J: I had an internship in the kitchen at Union Square Café while I was a
sophomore at NYU.

G: My first job was a busboy at Olive Garden.

Joe, prior to opening dell’Anima,
you worked as the sommelier at Babbo. How did you acquire such a
sought after and respected position in one of NYC’s most demanded restaurants?

I worked at the Italian
Wine Merchants (also partly owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich), which
helped me get the interview.  I had other
Italian wine experience having worked for almost a year with Vinifera imports,
and spent seven months in Italy.
I also knew that I still had (and continue to have) a lot to learn, and I must
admit, David Lynch was a great teacher when we were at Babbo together.

Gabriel, how have you incorporated your
experience from fine dining restaurants Le Bernardin and Del Posto
into your current, more casual restaurant?…

 

One of the main things I learned while at Del Posto was how to properly and efficiently butcher and cook fish.  At Le Bernardin, I learned how not to screw up so I wasn’t yelled at.  Both places taught me to be humble and realize that I had a long road ahead of me before I would become the cook I wanted to be.

Joe, you’ve just opened your first restaurant dell’anima in the  West Village at age 23 – how did you manage this accomplishment at such a young age?
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who have opened restaurants
before and are more experienced than I am.  I soaked up everything I could from them and
put every ounce of energy I had into the restaurant.

How did you two end up partnering and where
did you get the concept for dell’anima?
J: I knew I wanted it to be like some of my favorite Italian restaurants –
small, inviting and warm yet stylish. It was also important to have a modest menu
that reflects the seasons and showcases traditional dishes rarely seen outside Italy like
Risotto alla Pilota and Pizzocheri. While we were looking for
chefs, a close friend named Katherine Lahr, who now serves as our Operations
Manager, mentioned that she knew the perfect chef for the job, Gabe Thomspson. After
tasting his food I knew she was right.

G: As Joe mentions, Katherine is the one to credit for bringing us and ultimately the concept together.  We both appreciate simple, classic Italian food and wine so it’s a good fit.

Gabriel, did you create dishes to accompany wines Joe had selected or vice
versa?
Joe had an idea of the types of wines he wanted to serve before we met, but
I think the simple, straightforward approach that Chris (my sous chef) and I
take with food lends itself nicely to the wine.


Are you surprised by the nearly instantaneous popularity of your little
restaurant?

G: There are a lot of wine bars in the city, but we’ve tried to give
dell’anima an intimate feel that captures the spirit of both the Village and of Italy.  The West Village is a busy neighborhood, which
has kept us busy, but like I think people keep coming back for the food and
wine.

You’ve not only designed the exclusively
Italian wine list, but you also personally create the house made limoncello and
infused grappas. What are you experimenting with right now?

J:  I’m currently working on a stayman apple-infused grappa that I will
drizzle either saba or vincotto into and orancello from blood and cara cara
oranges.

Joe,
you’re also a current Master’s student at NYU in Food Studies. How do you juggle running a restaurant and
being a student?

It’s not easy, but I do a lot of running back and forth
through the Village from dell’anima to class.

What’s
your favorite wine on dell’anima’s wine list right now and why?

J: I
love our whole by the glass list. One
sparkling, two whites and all of the reds are from the 1990s.  It’s fun to offer something a little
different.

What’s
your least favorite wine (and yes, you must pick one)?
J: Any wine that has
increased dramatically in price because of the weak dollar.

What’s your favorite dish on Dell’Anima’s menu
now and why?

G: My favorite dish is the arugula salad – it’s simple
and delicious. If I have to pick a least favorite, I guess I’ll say the
chicken, only because I make so many of them.

Other than your own, what’s your favorite
restaurant in NYC
?
J: I
take my mom to Bouley for her birthday every year. I’ve never seen anyone else so happy about a
meal, so I love going just to see the smile on her face. But when I’m just
hanging with friends Great Jones Café and ‘Inoteca are my places of choice.

G: My favorite place is Blue Ribbon. As a chef, I like that
it’s open late, plus you know exactly what you are going to get every time you
go.

What culinary trend do you most
embrace?

J: Seasonal and local food, organic everything and quality cured meats.

G: I generally don’t pay much attention to food trends, so I guess I just want
people to eat how they like to eat and cook how they like to cook.

 

What trend do you wish would die already?
J: Manipulating foods using
chemicals.

 

What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new
ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…

J: I’m going to focus on dell’anima and finishing my masters
for now. I want to take the Advanced Sommelier exam this year from the Court of
Master Sommeliers but I’ll hold off on working on any new projects until at
least the summer.

Address: 38 8th Ave., at Jane St.
Phone:
(212)366-6633

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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