As the owner and executive chef of Trattoria Romana, Vittorio Asoli credits trust as one of his recipes for success.
It started at a young age while growing up in Rome and his single, hard-working mother, Liliana, sent him on errands for groceries in town. She told him to say hello and greet everyone with a smile so, after time, he could build trust with them.
Selecting those groceries was just the beginning of his food fascination as Vittorio credits his culinary path to watching his mom create dinners in the family kitchen when he was just a young kid.
“I liked to see my mom cook and prepare this beautiful food in no time. It didn’t matter how many people – 8, 10 or 15 people – she did it so fast and put together these dishes,” he said. “That made me admire my mother, the cooking, and the Italian culture.”
At 13 years old, Vittorio began working at some of the top-notch restaurants on the Via Veneto, which features some of Rome’s most renowned cafés and five-star hotels. Since these establishments are considered in such high regard in Italy, he knew it was a wonderful opportunity to learn from professionals because he dreamed of becoming a chef and opening his own restaurant one day.
He enrolled at the prestigious Culinary Institute of Nettuno in Rome when he was 16. As his career and love of cooking progressed, he found another love a few years later when he met Staten Islander Pauline LoBianco at his restaurant in Rome.
The duo exchanged phone numbers and started an overseas courtship for a few months before Vittorio moved to Queens. Since he served in the Italian army and signed up to parachute out of airplanes, that leap of faith really didn’t scare him.
“That’s what I did in my life. I like to discover something new. I really like to go into something full force. That’s what I teach my kids all the time,” he said.
After arriving in America, Vittorio worked at some of Manhattan’s top eateries, including Bravo Gianni, Muracco’s, Le Cirque, and Giambelli 50th Ristorante. Three years later, the couple married and moved to Dongan Hills. Since Vittorio liked Staten Island so much, he decided to open Trattoria Romana on Mother’s Day in 1994.
“I always thought about opening up a restaurant one day. But it’s one thing to think about it and one thing to do it,” said Vittorio, who added this was a tough decision since it meant leaving a successful job in Manhattan soon after the birth of his first son.
“My wife stayed back, and she backed me. Not only for the idea of opening the restaurant, but she also backed me with the family because I was here 15 hours of a day, every day, to make this place run perfectly,” said the chef.
By cooking with fresh ingredients and creating dishes with seasonal items and making delectable pizzas from a wood-burning stove made of bricks and stones imported from Rome, Vittorio makes customers feel like they’re home.
“You have to learn from the customers about their background. Once I find that out, then I know what type of recipe I’ll create for them,” said Vittorio. “My focus is to find out the type of food they like. I would talk to them and listen to their stories.
“It was a strong challenge because I wanted to learn the regions that my customers and their families come from so I could learn about their favorite food and duplicate it. You can lose the battle if the recipe is not right,” he added.
Vittorio says by tapping into their “memory and tradition,” he builds trust and strong relationships with his customers.
The executive chef also connects to customers with cooking classes — which began in 2006 and is featured on local cable – and include history lessons on some of the products such as tomatoes, pasta, and wine.
“It’s a way of saying thanks to the people that come to this restaurant. I appreciate them very much. I believe in them because they believe in me,” he said.
Vittorio also believes in staying “part of the community” by holding classes at local schools such as St. Joseph Hill and Staten Island Academy as well as giving demonstrations during events at Historic Richmond Town, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and the Staten Island Zoo.
That desire to become part of the community is one of the reasons Vittorio joined the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce immediately after opening his restaurant 25 years ago.
“I joined the Chamber because it was part of the community. To start to develop my name was very important and the Chamber helped me do that. If you work in the community, you need to be out there and have people get to know you and see you,” he said.