Like many Italian-Americans, Joe Cicala came to food by way of family. Raised in suburban Washington, D.C., Cicala grew up with a mom who owned a private catering company. She gave him his first shot in the industry, hiring him to cook alongside her team after he graduated from high school. Working the stove, it didn’t take Cicala long to figure out that his future lied in kitchens.
Digging deeper into his Italian heritage, Cicala traveled to the motherland to train under Michelin-starred Chef Pietro Rispoli in Salerno, Italy. Returning to D.C., Cicala worked at Galileo and then Café Milano with Chef Fabio Salvatore, who would serve as an early mentor and introduce the young chef to Abruzze cuisine. His next step took Cicala to New York City, where he cooked for one year under the formidable Mark Ladner at Del Posto, one of the city’s only restaurants to earn four stars from The New York Times.
Cicala then took his skills back to D.C. with sous chef positions at New Heights and Urbana, followed by his first major leadership role as opening executive chef of Palio in Leesburg, Virginia. In August 2010, Philadelphia’s Francis Cratil-Cretarola tapped Cicala to run his restaurant and ode to Abruzzo, Le Virtù. Since Cicala took over the kitchen, Le Virtù has been awarded three bells from the Philadelphia Inquirer and earned the fifth spot on Philadelphia Magazine’s 2012 “50 Best Restaurants” list. In addition to his 2013 StarChefs.com Rising Stars Artisan Chef.Award, Cicala was a 2012 James Beard “Rising Star Chef” semi-finalist.