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How Travel and Exploration Inspired Chef Jody Williams

The celebrated chef of many West Village hot spots shares the five dishes that inspired her career.

By Jody Williams

10:42 AM EDT on September 12, 2023

Chef and Restaurateur Jody Williams.

Chef and Restaurateur Jody Williams.

Jody Williams is the chef and owner of the much-acclaimed Buvette in the West Village and is also the co-chef/owner with her life/business partner, Rita Sodi, of Via Carota, the heralded West Village trattoria, and Bar Pisellino, an Italian aperitivi and espresso bar. The couple recently opened The Commerce Inn, a Shaker-inspired early American tavern and cookery. Williams’ cooking has been praised in such publications as Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, and The New York Times. Many of the inspirational dishes that Chef Williams shares with Appetito are informed by her experiences as an American in Europe.

Tarte Tatin

I lived in Italy for almost six years, and while I was working in Reggio Emilia, we would close the restaurant and travel to places in France like Bordeaux or Marseille. I remember stopping in the French countryside to have these huge meals and then sleep on the lawn of some chateau or something, and that's probably where I had tarte tatin for the first time. Of course, in Paris, it's ubiquitous, but homemade tarte tatin is rare. The quest to learn and the love for eating and making tarte tatin sort of set me off on Buvette. I used to joke that I opened Buvette because I wanted to make tarte tatin, and it's kind of true.

Risotto Sotto Bosco

I learned this dish when I was working in Reggio Emilia. It's a real traditional dish, but it struck me as so modern. The name means "everything under the woods" and it had truffles and porcini and blueberries and/or blackberries and Parmigiano. It was just beautiful, and it blew me away.

Bagnun di Acciughe

This is another dish where I had a moment when eating something that just really opened my mind. It's an ancient anchovy and bread soup that I ate in Genoa. It's a great story. I was traveling around and trying to find a place to eat, and it was raining, just awful outside, and everything was closed, but I could hear the sounds of a restaurant somewhere down one of these little alleys, and I found it. There was no menu, and one dish that they serve was this anchovy and bread soup that is archaic and simple. It was just perfect, especially in that moment.

Pizza Taglio

And another dish that sort of opened my mind was when I was working in Rome as a cook. I was on the back of a Vespa leaving work and somebody handed me some pizza taglio. I put it in my pocket and ate bits and pieces of it as we were going through the city. I had no idea what it was, but it was so delicious, with squash blossoms and anchovies. I love these moments of discovery when traveling. Both Rita and I strive to cook things that are rooted in nostalgia and a little bit of history — things that are handed down. We're not classically trained. We're sort of self-taught, and a big part of that teaching is traveling and exploring. Diana Vreeland said, "The eye has to travel." For me as a chef, that's so true.

Carciofi Fritti

The last dish would have to be carciofi fritti. Rita and I literally met over a plate of carciofi fritti. I worked nearby and would go to I Sodi with friends once a week after they opened. We'd begin every meal ever had at I Sodi with carciofi fritti and Negronis. They are better there than anywhere else I've ever had them, including the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. They were so good that I just had to introduce myself to the chef. They are the signature dish at our table.

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