Under the Radar: Chef Vinson Petrillo of Zero Café + Bar

Staff Writer
Petrillo is a force in the kitchen and someone to continue to watch in Charleston

Vinson Petrillo.

Chef Vinson Petrillo.

Chef Vinson Petrillo might be cooking inside a tucked away nook of a kitchen inside Zero George, but he is doing big things on a local and national level — much of which he is starting to get recognized for.

After growing up in New Jersey, Petrillo attended college in Charleston before working at a slew of East Coast restaurants, including New York’s Caviar Russe, Abe & Arthur’s, and Prospect — a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient — in Brooklyn. The chef is a two-time winner of Food Network’s Chopped and Chopped Champions, and was named to 2013 Zagat New York’s 30 Under 30 list. He later went on to explore some restaurants in Denmark, staging at Dragsholm Slot for a little more than a month.

Most recently, he was a finalist for the 2015 S.Pellegrino's Best Young Chef competition, where he was selected from 3,000 chefs to compete in a series of events to try and become the overall winner. He traveled to Italy to compete at the Milan Expo with the others where ultimately Irish-born chef Mark Moriarty won the title.

We wanted to learn more about this rising chef and what his plans are for the future:

The Daily Meal: Tell us about yourself? How did you get into cooking?
Vinson Petrillo:
Growing up in an authentic Italian household in New Jersey, food was a huge part of my childhood. I was surrounded by great cooks and we'd put together big Sunday dinners every week with the family. I eventually came to Charleston and attended Johnson and Wales University and graduated with a culinary degree. After graduation, I moved to Nantucket and worked at the acclaimed restaurant, Topper’s at The Wauwinet.

How did you get to Charleston and at Zero George?
My wife and I were planning to start a family, and having gone to Johnson and Wales the last year they were open in Charleston, the city has always had a special place in my heart. I couldn't imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. Zero George was looking for someone to transform their simple menu into something special, and they selected me as their candidate. 

What is your favorite thing to cook on your menu?
Right now, we have a cantaloupe gazpacho — simply highlighting the super ripe fresh melons. It is composed of an espuma of lime yogurt, a cantaloupe gelée, shiso, lime powder, Sicilian pistachio, and a touch of tomato powder. The texture and freshness are really highlighted in this dish.

What are you most excited about food-wise?
I am excited about food in general, and my philosophy is that being local isn't always better. Sometimes the tomatoes are just not ripe enough, the cantaloupe is dry, the onions are not sweet enough. My food is ingredient-driven, which means if I don't have the best product the end result will suffer. I couldn't imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. That being said, we sometimes change the menu daily, but we always change it weekly. My daughter has inspired me to open my eyes to so many new things and realize anything is possible.

Any fun facts that would be cool for people to know about you?
The day before I was supposed to take off for New York City to compete in the regional competition for S.Pellegrino's Best Young Chef, my wife went into labor with our first child. I postponed my trip to be with my family and once my daughter Sawyer was born, I headed to New York to compete against nine other incredible chefs. It was a ton of pressure and I was running on serious adrenaline. I knew that I had to win for my daughter, and luckily I did.

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