“Italian cuisine has always just felt more comfortable to me, whether it was eating it or preparing it,” says José Velez, owner and chef of Toscania Trattoria, a southern Italian restaurant located in Little Falls.
Velez, a Culinary Institute of America (CIA)-trained chef who taught the White House kitchen staff under the Clinton and Bush administrations how to prepare dishes, opened his 48-seat restaurant, Toscania Trattoria this past summer.
Toscania showcases southern Italian fare, including mussels in red sauce, cold assorted antipasto, homemade mozzarella with tomato, basil and roasted peppers, homemade ravioli in a light cream tomato sauce, linguine with red or white clam sauce, veal parmigiana, as well as select northern Italian and southern French dishes, such as braised rabbit, veal Milanese, veal osso buco (pictured), mussels Pernod and pan-seared scallops Provençale.
In 2000, Velez was invited to the White House to train the cooking staff to prepare his dishes after a White House member sampled one of his specialties at a charity event he co-hosted at the Seaview. “I worked with cooks who were Navy kids who weren’t classically-trained chefs and were lucky enough to be chosen to work in the White House,” says Velez. “The kitchen was small, but very efficient.” Velez was invited back to the White House three additional times during the Bush administration to help cooks prepare entrees and desserts that would be served to the West Wing staff in the dining room, also known as “the mess.”
Velez’s culinary skills were again recognized in 2000 when he and a group of his colleagues won a gold medal in a hot cooking competition at the prestigious Salon Culinaire International de Londres, an internationally renowned culinary competition that is held in London. “It was similar to the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” competition, except there were five individuals equally involved,” says Velez.
Located at 75 Main Street in Little Falls, Toscania Trattoria is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Velez also caters on and off-site private parties on the weekends. Reservations are recommended. BYO. For more information, call 973-256-2984.