The mood at dell’anima is palpably different. Unlike its calmer, but equally delicious, sister restaurants, L’Artusi and L’Apicio, this West Village Italian joint pulses with energy. And Wu-Tang
That groovy feeling at dell’anima is the personal stamp of Andrew Whitney, the ever-ebullient Chef de Cuisine. Towering in both stature and personality, Whitney defines this restaurant. Some may even wonder how he finds time to toss pasta in between singing with coworkers and busting into mini dance routines.
Whitney’s beloved hip hop, however, is responsible for more than just the atmosphere. It also serves as a constant source of inspiration to a chef famous for his unusual, and delicious, concoctions. Think bone marrow with braised pig head, and a menu that attempts to use “everything except the eyeball.” This unique combination came to him in a dream, and is now ranked among the top five marrows in the city. (Yes, he admits to actually dreaming about food.)
“I take inspiration from many places, but most of it comes from my grandmas and my music,” he explained. “Growing up, I was always in the garden with them, learning about food and cooking. I remember my [maternal] Grandma was always playing classical music, like Chopin. It’s one of the times I really got into music.”
So how did a teenage boy from Minnesota go from Chopin in the kitchen with Grandma to rapping along with Gza? Exposure to the restaurant scene.
“When I was 13-years-old, I asked my father for a pair of Girbaud jeans. And he told me to ‘get a job,’” Whitney described, his face a mix of pride and nostalgia. “So Dad signed the government waiver [to work underage] and I started up as a dishwasher.”
Several restaurants and one culinary degree later, Whitney shipped east for a chance to make it in the big leagues. And that meant New York City.
Within a few years, Whitney had progressed from Sous Chef to Chef de Cuisine. But don’t expect to hear any Chopin, at least not after 9 pm. Once dell’anima gets busy, Whitney throws on some hip hop and lets the beats rule the kitchen.
“When we’re flowing with the customers, then we’re cruising with the music. 15-20 tickets at one time and we need some great beats on,” Whitney said, almost dreamily. “It just makes us so smooth.”
To this chef, making a playlist is a near religious experience, an act responsible for aligning the mood and energy of all in the room.
“I know we can’t play hardcore hip hop all the time, or it would upset some of the customers. If it were 8 pm and Tupac came on, someone would be upset. So I keep it classy with some ‘80s pop or classic rock, like ‘Love Her Madly’ by The Doors. But by 9 or 10, I’m throwing on Rick Ross.”
Visitors to the restaurant aren’t the only ones whose nights are defined by Whitney’s playlists. Coworkers also cite his music as one of the highlights of their experience.
“It’s great to see both the customers and the ones serving them enjoying themselves and having a good time,” explains bartender Danny Rincon. “Andrew’s got a distinct selection, and it definitely sets the tone for the restaurant.”
It is this dynamic energy and charm that has captured the attention of not only dell’anima diners, but also of Bravo TV. Starting January, you can watch Whitney jibe from the comfort of your living room, as he competes on Best New Restaurant.
Whitney will represent the entire Epicurean restaurant group, battling 15 chefs from other hot restaurants around the country. But don’t expect him to forget dell’anima while he travels the country becoming a Bravo star—he’s got his iPod to remind him.
“The dell’anima theme song is definitely ‘Cash Rules Everything Around Me’ by Wu-Tang. A cd like that would have been slapped out of my hand as a kid [because of the lyrics], but now it’s just my jam. And it’s honestly the perfect fit for the team. We’re just trying to make a buck, like in the song. Only difference is we’re peddling good food, good drinks and good hospitality.”
Emily Siegel is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Mashable, Haute Living and Elite Daily. Her favorite animal is the Rockhopper Penguin (even if she’s jealous of their flair). Follow her on twitter @emilysiegel.