To say that there’s a large pedigree behind Osteria would be an understatement.
When it opened its doors in 2007, the restaurant was the second in the growing Vetri Family empire. In the 10 years that it’s been serving food inspired by the traditional osterias in Northern Italy, it has earned three bells from the Philadelphia Inquirer and a James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic for head chef Jeff Michaud.
Michaud may serve as the face, but the players behind the scenes are another great story. For instance, the past two years have found Danielle Seipp holding it down as Osteria’s head pastry chef. Seipp, 24, was hired after staging - the food world's version of an internship - for six months at the age of 19, while still in culinary school.
Although she hadn’t dined at Osteria prior to staging, she knew about it through school and fell in love with its particular style of Italian food. For Seipp, it was a learning experience as she was more familiar with French and German food making but as she went on, she noticed the crossovers and similarities between the cuisines.
Seipp worked her way up from a pastry cook to sous chef to her current position as head pastry chef. She's the first pastry chef they've had in-house. One of the initial challenges of joining the Osteria team was learning the extensive menu as not many establishments have such an ample pastry menu. There are two staple desserts and a rotation of three to five seasonal items, including gelatos and ice creams.
“I know when I [was made] sous chef that was kind of like an 'oh shit!' moment where I wasn't sure if I was ready, but you just have to be like, 'No, I got this!'
– Danielle Seipp, head pastry chef, Osteria
There’s also a full bread service - which includes five different breads - so there's an enormous amount of prep that goes into everything. She says, she doesn't get scared, and she welcomes new challenges. “I try not to get overwhelmed by things because that's when you make mistakes.”
The development of the dessert menu starts with seasonality and seeing what fruits are available at a particular moment in time, choosing what flavor combinations Seipp finds most appealing and then deciding what item she wants to make with a particular flavor combination in mind; it all ties into Osteria’s major emphasis on sourcing and establishing relationships with local farms.
When switching up the menu she says, “It's hard sometimes with pastry because apples won’t get nice so you have to try with a not so nice apple. We usually plan a month out in advance, and depending how short a season something is, we might swap it right away, or do it all at once.”
On the people side, there was learning and adjusting to managing people and dealing with a language barrier in the kitchen.
“A challenging thing is realizing that people learn differently,” Seipp said. “So you try to show someone something and that might not be how they [most effectively] learn it. So you just have to keep trying because how my brain thinks isn't [always] how their [brain] thinks. I have this one [pastry cook], Syra, who only speaks Spanish; so there's a language barrier, but the two of us work it out. We'll just act out what we're trying to say and we'll get it, but that’s always hard.”
One of her favorite parts of her job was learning how to make panettone, the Italian sweet bread loaf that's traditionally served around the holidays. It's a three-day, extremely labor-intensive and finicky process to make one bread. But every December, the creation of big batches for purchase gives Seipp an overwhelming sense of pride.
For those who are looking to follow in her footsteps Seipp advised, “Take every opportunity, if it means staying late or coming in an extra day, or coming in early, because you learn something from it, and shows your boss that you’re in it and want it. Also don't be afraid to ask for those things, because sometimes you need to be like, ‘I want to do more. I wanna take on more responsibilities.’ And most of the time they'll be like 'alright let's do this!”
She paused and added:
“I know when I got sous chef that was kind of like an 'oh shit!' moment where I wasn't sure if I was ready, but you just have to be like, 'No, I got this!' [For me, I like to create] personal challenges, like making a dessert special every week so that way you feel like you've got it. Eventually, you do get it. Oh, and always say, 'Yes, Chef,' even if you're getting yelled at just say 'Yes!' Don't argue, don't take it personal. It's just to make you better. Just know that they're gonna be mistakes, things happen but everything can be remade for the most part.”
When not in the kitchen, she'll try to get to get time off on the same days as her boyfriend, chef Jesse Grossman, Michaud’s right hand man at Osteria. They'll cook at home, hang out and go bar hopping. Tria is a favorite of theirs, they also enjoy spending time outdoors at the Wissahickon.
“There's definitely days where I don't even wanna think about work but I'm always buying books and reading books. I feel like eating out all the time; [it’s a way to] just get inspired. Another thing that I like to do is to center my vacations around a food city that's cool, and spend a week there and see what's going on and maybe stage some places, that’s more fun for me. Chicago was awesome, I've been back like four times, I love it there. While I was there I staged at Floriole, a bakery, they do the most beautiful laminated doughs, like croissants, puffed dough. I also staged at Mindy's Hot Chocolate.”
One of the most fun food cities that she recommends is New Orleans.
Overall she says, “It's a sick job, it's really fun, lots of energy, always on my feet, it’s very hands-on, I couldn't ask for anything else. I love art, I have an art background, and this [job] is very practical, and there's so many more variations in stuff that I can go find a job. The fact that I get to combine my love of food and art definitely crushes it.”