Rapid Fire: Todd Villani of Terre a Terre

by Melody Kettle

Chef Todd Villani, owner of Terre a Terre in Carlstadt, grew up in a kitchen alongside his grandmother who prepared 3-course meals every day for most of her adult life. 

Inspired by her passion for food, he began his culinary career waiting tables from coast to coast, accumulating along the way an appreciation for various cuisines, authentic ingredients, and techniques that truly define a culture.   Then, he traded his waiter’s apron for a chef’s hat and headed to Europe to apprentice at one of the world’s leading 5-star resorts. Upon his return, he was hired at World Yacht (a subsidiary interest of acclaimed “Top Chef” Marcus Samuelssson), where he evolved his repertoire, blending traditional French technique with Scandinavian-inspired cuisine. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?

I would probably still like to be a server. I was a good salesman or an accountant.

What is your earliest memory of food? What did it smell like?

My earliest memory of food is my mother making sunday gravy (or is it sauce?) <wink>. Her trick was to get as much color on the meats to get a rich flavor. the smell of garlic and fresh herbs gets me every time.

Do you recommend formal culinary education?

I would suggest working in a kitchen for atleast 6 months to see if this is truly what you want to do for the rest of your life. Because it will be your life. Then try culinary school to learn basic kitchen skills.

What is the greatest honor/compliment you’ve received as a chef thus far?

Some of the compliments on the food or the media blessing me with humbling words still shock me. I just see so many better chefs and to be included in the conversation makes me grateful. My mom and Dad saying there proud, or the letter from my high school guidance counselor is pretty amazing.

Passions or hobbies outside the kitchen?

I'm very passionate about sports and also helping people in recovery. I go to many detoxes and rehabs to give them hope that it can be done.

What’s your perfect day off like?

My perfect Day off would probably be dining at a restaurant that gives me more inspiration. A round of golf and my feet in the sand is always a plus.

What was your most memorable meal?

My most memorable meal was a 9 course tasting on a windy night in Santorini. It was a 3 michelin star restaurant in a hotel that was hundreds years old. They would let the ropes down from either side to lower and raise the candlelit chandelier that was as big as my restaurant. It was breathtaking.

Do you have a favorite city or location? If you could open another restaurant anywhere, where would it be and why?

My favorite city Is NYC. No doubt. But if I were to open another one it would be in a warmer climate. San Diego is calling me.

Is there one ingredient you refuse to use in the kitchen?

Not so much an ingredient but a microwave will never be used in my kitchen.

What ingredient or technique are you most excited about right now?

I would say I'm really excited about preserving, pickling and smoking. These techniques have been around for years. But to use our local bounty from summer in the fall and winter in my dishes brings a certain charm to the dishes.(radishes)

What trend are you excited about? What trend is over?

The trend is moving forward with the local movement we began 2 years ago. Sourcing locally - in a 300 mile radius - for us is difficult sometimes. For instance, we build the menu on whats available, but we also have a small kitchen, so the question becomes can we get it out in a timely fashion. I think with these ingredients its moving toward comfort food with refined technique.

I would hope people are getting away from the molecular stuff.  It's fun, but it just doesn't seem real.

Favorite kitchen tool?

My favorite kitchen tool is my spoons . i can taste , plate ect. 

What was your worst cooking related injury

Worst injury was grabbing a scalding red pan and my hand being branded. wrap it up and keep working.

Favorite cheap eat? 

Pho in Hawaii. I will eat it every day.

What is your favorite dish on your menus today?

The dish I like to make most is my next one, with endless possibilities. My least Favorite is always my last one. It can always be better. 

What’s the wildest thing you’ve done in the kitchen - culinary or otherwise?

When I worked at world Yacht, I would fish out the door on the hudson.

What change(s) do you look forward to in today’s food industry?

Changes I look forward to mostly is healthier eating habits and less obesity in our children.

So, how do you feel about food bloggers? 

Food bloggers are a blessing and a curse. If they write good to great things, everyone comes to critique and mostly hate. If they write bad things, then you're out of business. But no matter what, I stay true and work 18 hours a day to be the best person I could be,  before being a chef. That, they cant take away.

Any advice for upcoming chefs?

No matter what, get up and put a good hard days work in. It will be a rollercoaster, but if you have faith and are not afraid, you will trudge a life to happy destiny. You might not be the richest person, financially, but you will be rich in mind body and soul.

What's you most embarrassing cooking moment? 

My most embarrassing moment is writing this....lol.