Top Chef 2017: Derek Venutolo

Derek Venutolo | Born to be on Center Stage
Chef Partner, The Capital Grille

Don’t be fooled by Chef Derek Venutolo’s mild-mannered appearance or his controlled demeanor. He has a wild side.

“I played in punk rock bands in Los Angeles for about 10 years,” he says. But after 21 years in the restaurant industry, and with such a supportive team behind him at The Capital Grille, where he’s Executive Chef Partner, it’s safe to say the kitchen is where he belongs.

Venutolo’s first love of cooking came from his mother. “She was always cooking and baking, and she got me involved at a really young age helping her in the kitchen.”

After graduating from Western Culinary Arts Institute in Portland, Oregon, in 1999 (on the President's list) his career began in California. Venutolo developed further under mentors like Chef Matthew Hewitt and Chef Shelly Bojorquez — both in Long Beach, California.

He believes in “using what Mother Nature provides us naturally and keeping it simple to let those flavors create an experience that will be talked about for years to come.” He says, “We don’t need to hide things with sauces and garnishes.” Instead, his focus is on getting the best ingredients, handling them with care, and enhancing with simple seasoning to allow the flavors to speak for themselves.

A recent trip to Kauai and Maui reinforced Venutolo’s philosophy that sourcing the best ingredients is the key. And it got him in an Asian mood.

Take for instance, his menu at The Capital Grille. “Alaskan Halibut is back in season and on our summer menu. It is served over sake braised green cabbage and shiitake mushrooms, topped with a miso butter and soy pearls,” he says. (Soy pearls explode in your mouth with salty flavor.)

When asked to recall one of the best meals he has ever tasted, Venutolo’s memory not only recounts what was on the plate, but also the date, the season and every ingredient that made it special. “My best meal was in Rome, Italy, in the fall of 2012,” he says. “It was a prosciutto-wrapped pork loin, stuffed with pistachios, gorgonzola cheese, and dried currants, with Chianti Beurre Rouge and fresh wilted baby spinach.”

Since The Capital Grille is known as a premier steakhouse with an award-winning wine list and for serving delectable dry-aged steaks and the finest seafood, it’s no surprise that Venutolo keeps his filet knife close at hand. “My filet knife is one of the most used knives in my set,” he says.

“We hand carve and sculpt all our steaks and seafood on premise at The Capital Grille.” Under Venutolo’s leadership, The Capital Grille received a coveted Diamond Club Award from Darden in 2016.

“The team and family environment we have in our restaurant is unbelievable,” he says.