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1927 East Passyunk Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19148
215.271.5626
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Link to more photos of our staff

Executive Chef Joe Cicala trained in Salerno, Italy under Chef Pietro Rispoli before embarking on an American career that would take him through some of the East Coast's best kitchens, including Galileo and Cafe Milano in D.C. and Del Posto in New York. But his culinary career began in more humble circumstances and only after he'd explored another dream.

As a teenager, Joe was an aspiring hockey player plying his trade in the tough world of that sport's Junior leagues. Born and raised in suburban D.C., Joe's hockey development was unlikely but he advanced all the way to the professional ranks, dressing for two A.H.L. games. His realization that he gone as far as he could on the ice coincided with his mother's decision to open her own Italian catering business. So, it was while helping his mother in the kitchen...a very familiar Italian experience...that he realized his true calling.

Joe brings a great respect and knowledge for Italian traditions to the Le Virtù kitchen as well as a passion and talent for innovation. His "cucina" is at once rustic and vibrant, taking La Cucina Abruzzese in directions that are both new and perfectly natural: his menu includes dishes that hew strictly to tradition and others that employ Abruzzese ingredients and components in novel, seamless ways.

Sous Chef Massimo Conocchioli was raised in Colonnella, a small town in the rural wine country of Abruzzo's Teramo province. From the age of 6 he was schooled in the butchering and curing of meat. Each winter, the family would gather at the Conocchioli farm to kill the pigs and begin the ancient, traditional process that rendered pork delicacies that sustained the Conocchiolis for the entire year. He pursued this line of work professionally in the region and became an expert butcher (but not before exploring his own athletic career in kick boxing).

Massimo provides an invaluable font of all things Abruzzese (his mother is a restaurant cook back home in Colonnella) and is a jack-of-all trades at Le Virtù: his hand is seen in everything, from Ragus to desserts. But his real passion is the cured meats and fresh sausages that help make our menu so scrupulously authentic.

In the Conocchioli tradition, Massimo is a music lover taught the accordian by his cousin. His family instilled in him a respect for tradition and spent every holiday together. These occasions (and his innumerable aunts and uncles) gave him an understanding of Abruzzo's most singular "piatti tipici." His blacksmith father and restaurant cook mother taught him to appreciate a life rooted in work well done.

Le Virtù’s owners are Francis Cratil Cretarola and Catherine Lee. Francis is a Pennsylvania native with familial roots in Abruzzo’s Teramo province; Catherine Lee is a former native of New York City and northern New Jersey (with familial roots in Shanghai). They have lived and traveled for extended periods in Abruzzo, staying in small mountain villages and larger cities, gaining knowledge of the region’s treasures and a love and passion for its people and culture. They formerly guided (and will again!) culinary tours of the region. Cathy is nearly always on hand as hostess and manager at Le Virtù.

Since 2006 they have worked to bring DisCanto (www.discanto.net), an Abruzzo-based musical quintet dedicated to the preservation and performance of traditional Abruzzese music, to the audiences in the Philadelphia and New York areas.

Francis’s brother Fred Cratil Cretarola, rounds out Le Virtù’s core group as co-manager. A former college goalie (continuing our hockey theme) Fred is the heart of Le Virtù. He also lives in South Philadelphia.