In the kitchen with…Early on, Vito Racanelli Jr., Chef/Owner of Onesto Trattoria, displayed a passion for food. His mother used to find olive pits in this pants pockets. Those olives had been brought back by an uncle from Bari in Italy’s Puglia region. Vito liked to snack on them on the way to his grade school in the Bronx. The uncle had brined them and jarred them himself. Today, Vito is aging his own pancetta and smoking his own bacon.

Vito’s parents were born in Italy, but if you listen you’ll know he was born in New York. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood with his grandmother preparing traditional Old Country meals, Vito loved and learned about food, both cooking and eating it. A testament to the values of Vito’s extended family is his credo, there is nothing more honest than food.

Things didn’t change much when his father moved the whole family to St. Louis when Vito was in high school; there were still those legendary meals. At the 2008 Taste of St. Louis, he dubbed his first round dish Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s House. Those gnocchi in Bolognese were Italy in my mouth. While judging that contest, which Vito won, Yours Truly decided Ladue News Readers should know more about this talented and enthusiastic chef.

At Johnson and Wales University, Vito sharpened his culinary skills to match his passion for food. During his summer externship at Busch Stadium he met Michelle, his bride to be. He prepared the lavish spreads for skyboxes and the players locker rooms. After graduation he and Michelle went to The Big Apple. She did public relations and he joined the culinary team at the elegant five-star Parker Meridien Hotel. With one call by his father to an old friend of his, the young couple found themselves living in an apartment on the Upper East Side with a view of the park.

Eight years ago, when his dad was sick, Vito and Michelle came back to St. Louis, found a house in University City, and eventually opened Big V’s, an indoor burger stand in The Loop.  But with all that Italian blood in him, Vito always had his eyes open for a perfect property for a small pizzeria/trattoria. And wouldn’t you know that it turned up in the South City neighborhood where his bride grew up.

Since Onesto opened in one year ago this April, Vito has been arriving early at the farmers markets, buying up the good stuff as it’s taken off the back of a truck. He has arranged to purchase 200 pounds of tomatoes this summer. His plan is to make batches of sauce, serving half immediately and jarring the rest to use as pizza sauce in the winter. He’s going to build a shelf above the restaurant’s prepared foods case to display the jars.

Vito’s recent do-it-himself carpentry was in his own home, readying the nursery for his first child. On October 28, daughter Laya was born by cesarean section (6 lbs., 13 oz., 19 inches). Michelle scheduled the delivery for a Tuesday, the only day of the week when Onesto is closed. In addition to being the Mamma Mia, Michelle is Sales & Event Manager for V. Catering & Events, their other family business.

Families love Onesto’s regular menu of pastas, sandwiches, salads and pizzas, but foodies go for the Italian-Grandma-inspired and Johnson & Wales-trained chef’s “specials menu.”  While Vito will spend hours preparing a sauce, he has given Ladue News Readers a quick ‘n easy recipe for a non-alcoholic Tiramisu. He wants kids, not just the grown-ups, to enjoy the classic Italian dessert.


Makes nine servings

4 cups   coffee (brewed, weak)

1 tbsp   amaretto flavored syrup

8 oz       mascarpone cheese

½ tbsp  egg yolk

½ cup   sugar

¼ tsp    vanilla

2 cups   heavy whipping cream

½ tsp    powdered sugar

16         lady finger cookies

½ tbsp  cocoa powder

Mix amaretto flavored syrup and coffee; set aside to cool.  In a large bowl, whip mascarpone, egg yolk, and sugar until softened and well mixed.  In a small bowl, whip vanilla, cream, and powdered sugar until form stiff peaks. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.  Soak half of the lady fingers in half the coffee mixture and then place in the bottom of a 8x8 inch glass baking dish.  Top with half of the mascarpone mixture. Soak the remaining lady fingers in coffee, then layer them and the rest of the mascarpone, and chill.  Sprinkle the top lightly with cocoa powder before serving at room temperature.