Former student named Best New Chef

Lisa DiTuro

Former Villanovan Mike Ciarelli is the best new chef in Philadelphia, according to Philadelphia Magazine. He recently entered and won a cook-off against the best new chefs in the area at the Philadelphia Expo Center.

“The competition was ‘Iron Chef’ style,” Ciarelli said. “They gave you a few ingredients, you didn’t know what they were, and then you had to make something out of it.”

When he’s not winning competitions, Ciarelli can be found right down the Main Line in Bryn Mawr where he is Chef di Cuisine at a restaurant called Bianca. Left off North Marion Ave., right next to the popular local bar called the Grog, Bianca has been open since October.

“If people do come in it’s not to see me. Dom was named Food and Wine’s best chef of 2004,” said Ciarelli of his boss, executive chief and owner, Dominique Filoni.

The two champion chefs collaborate on the menu, and each add a little of their own flavor to the dishes. Ciarelli said that his favorite dish is the pickled-beat salad with blue cheese moose and toasted pecans.

Ciarelli was a junior at the University in 2002, where he originally studied pre-med and intended to become a doctor like his father and grandfather before him. But the more he began to take courses in this area, the more he realized it wasn’t for him. So he switched his major to psychology, his mother’s profession, during his junior year. But that did not seem to fit right either.

“I wasn’t really as motivated as I used to be, and I knew I had to take the plunge,” Ciarelli said.

That plunge, of course, was his decision to leave the University and work as a chef. Luckily, he landed on his feet and took off running, getting a job working for his current boss, Dom Filoni, at one of the top restaurants in the area at the time, Savona.

After this stint, Ciarelli took time off to attend to the Culinary Institute of America. Following an intense 21-month program Ciarelli found himself getting offers from several different restaurants, including some in California. But it was a familiar voice that landed the ace. Filoni offered Ciarelli a job at a new restaurant he was opening in Bryn Mawr.

“I didn’t want to waste my time on something I had no passion for,” Ciarelli said of his decision to leave the University. “If I didn’t do it now, I thought, it’s never going to get done.”

Ciarelli’s love of food is rooted back in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where he grew up around food.

“My family is Sicilian, so I have been cooking since I was about six or seven,” said Ciarelli.

Though his family was a bit nervous about his decision, Ciarelli said they were very supportive of his leaving the University. Ciarelli also feels that family and food are intertwined. He said that food and sitting down at the table together is really important. He enjoys cooking for people he cares about and loves how food can bring people together and make them happy.

“If you want to be somewhere in this business you have to love what you do,” Ciarelli said, “It’s extremely stressful, it’s long hours and nothing ever goes your way. But I’m very happy with my decision, really happy and lucky, too.”