Chef Craig Wallen of Spasso - Biography
New York, NY
Growing up in the small town of Pekin, Illinois, Craig Wallen enjoyed watching cooking shows while his friends were busy with cartoons. He couldn't have imagined that his entertainment of choice—watching chefs like Julia Child and Martin Yan sauté, braise, and chop on TV—would have such an impact on the rest of his life.
While studying English literature at the University of Illinois, Wallen worked in several local restaurants. Interested in many different cuisines, it was the eight months he spent in Italy studying art and language that captivated his soul and inflamed his passion for the country's cuisine. He returned to the U.S. determined to pursue a cooking career that would allow him to nurture and further develop his passion for Italian cuisine. Wallen moved to New York in late 2000, and soon joined the team at Mario Batali's Lupa Trattoria. It was at Lupa, under Chef Mark Ladner's guidance, that Wallen first began to understand the concept of new Italian cuisine, combining the traditional ingredients and flavors of Italy with modern sensibility.
Although dedicated to Italian cuisine, Wallen wanted a better understanding of classic techniques, so after two years, he left Lupa—where he had worked his way up to sous chef—for Gramercy Tavern. After a year at Gramercy Tavern, having gained the discipline and technique he was searching for, Wallen was ready to return to Italian cuisine. In 2004, he joined the team at L'Impero as sous chef and was soon promoted to chef de cuisine. When L'Impero was reinvented as Convivio, Wallen remained its chef de cuisine and, together with Chef Michael White, achieved a New York Times 3-star review and a Michelin star.
Now as the executive chef of Spasso, Wallen continues to create dishes that maintain the respect for simple, rustic Italian tradition while also staying true to his personal and nuanced vision of Italian food. Along with Restaurateur Bobby Werhane, Wallen aims to offer authentic Italian dishes along with an experience that is soul-warming and uniquely New York.