Our Authors

Meet Lindsey Menard

Lindsey Menard
Lindsey Menard is a born and bred Washingtonian who enjoys good food, great wine, and bad jokes. After earning a degree in English and Education at Bucknell University, she moved back to DC to teach English and throw the occasional dinner party in her backyard. These days you will find her organizing the events in Via Umbria's Demonstration Kitchen and Cafe, talking incessantly about her dog, and writing one too many groan-worthy puns on social media.

From Scratch: The Quarantine Cookbook Queen Supreme

Editor’s Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them – Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna – click here.  Spoiler alert – it was delicious!


Over the past few weeks our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown by at least sixteen additions with more set to deliver every few days for the next few weeks. Fueled by the anxiety of having too much time on our hands and the need to feel productive, as well as an almost compulsive obsession with learning about the world through food, my husband, Scott, and I (with the help of the rest of the family) have set ourselves to the task of poring over these books for new ideas, ingredients, and recipes, and recreating their contents in our own kitchen. The result has been a house that smells different from one meal to the next, several pairs of pants that I now only look at longingly, and an incredible appreciation for what we have come to regard as the most important ingredient we have at our disposal- time.

Through the many tomes we’ve combed through on a daily basis, none have embraced this concept as strongly or with as much deference as Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch. In a moment when the world is in complete chaos, it’s comforting to read through these pages and gain a new appreciation and understanding of what it means to cook and to be cooks. As Ruhlman says, “cooking made us human and I believe that cooking can keep us human.” (Ruhlman, 12). Looking through his recipes and his ideas it becomes clear that this is not merely a gimmick or a catchphrase- it is the driving force and motive behind this particular collection of recipes and the broader theme of the rest of his works.

The book itself is made up of ten distinct chapters each focused on a particular dish or meal that can be made entirely ‘from scratch’. These dishes are not complicated or fussy, rather they center on comfort foods and classics, foods that many people are already accustomed to eating and possibly even to cooking but with a depth of scope found in few other places. By his own account, Ruhlman’s goal here is to expand upon familiar concepts as he believes through “exploring several, familiar, staple meals, we can learn just about everything we need to know in order to cook, well, anything.” (Ruhlman, 12) True to his word Ruhlman uses these ten base recipes as a means to explore not just the end result of the dishes themselves, but the complexity of the ingredients that go into making them, ways to simplify parts of those ingredients to tailor the recipe to your particular time or skill constraints, and ways to apply those ingredients and skills learned to future recipes. 

Take for example the chapter on Roast Chicken, a dish that by his own account “scarcely needs its own recipe” (Ruhlman, 28). Rather than providing a single page account in which readers are instructed to turn on their oven, salt a chicken, place chicken in oven, and wait, Ruhlman uses this chapter as an opportunity to talk about using the chicken to flavor its sides by creating a pan sauce from the remnants of the cooked bird, taking the bones and creating your own simple chicken stock (so easy you can ‘do it in your sleep’), and then how to make chicken soup using the leftover pieces of chicken from dinner and the stock you made from that chicken’s bones. For those with less time on their hands he suggests a completely unfussy shortcut version of his ‘scratch’ meal that relies on a store-bought rotisserie chicken and chicken broth. For most chefs and cookbook authors this would likely be considered cheating but as Ruhlman charmingly and forgivingly mentions throughout his pages “from scratch is an attitude, not a recipe or a rigid set of instructions.” (Ruhlman, 24)

At this point in time the levity, insight, and poignancy with which Rulhman attacks his recipes throughout this book come as a welcome relief. It becomes clear both through reading and cooking your way through his pages that there is no judgement to be found either from the author or the recipes themselves. While there is always an idea of striving for perfection, even a lasagna that only turns out halfway* the way you intended, or uses half store bought and half scratch made ingredients, is still lasagna and is still going to be pretty darn good. While the chapters themselves may seem simple, and many of the base recipes are, each dish is only as simple as you want to make it and the pages are full of intriguing sauces, stocks, and ways to leverage your leftovers into delicious meals unto themselves. The lingering sentiment from this book for me has been Rulhman’s musing about what it means to be ‘from scratch’, what qualifies us to take pride in our cooking, and what we should strive for. His answer is to ask yourself ‘’Is this the best I can do with the ingredients on hand, the time I have, and the energy I feel like expending?” (Ruhlman, 13). No single part of that answer is more important than the other; for right now, sometimes the act of cooking is enough, whatever your ingredients or results may be. 


Recommended for: Confident beginners and experienced home cooks looking for new inspiration. Ruhlman has chosen recipes that can lead to perfection but don’t require it and strikes a good balance between creating intricate recipes to challenge experienced cooks and thoughtful shortcuts so as not to intimidate beginners. 


Ease of Recipes: Moderate. A few of the recipes rely on a little bit of practice and know-how but the majority are a ‘choose your own adventure novel’ of difficulty as he suggests ways to cut corners or supplement your from scratch cooking with store bought items that won’t sacrifice the quality of the overall dish. The recipes are also written in a different format than most traditional cookbooks- Ruhlman doesn’t list out step by step procedures for each dish but adopts more of an essay format wherein one step leads into the next, and the next until you have a fully completed dish. While not at all a bad thing, and definitely lends itself to a more enjoyable cookbook reading experience, I caution anyone attempting to make these recipes to read them through in their entirety at least once as it’s easy to miss ingredients or steps if you’re skimming. 


Overall Rating: 4/5 : This book is an absolute pleasure to read and has some really thoughtful and helpful recipes and insight into why you take certain steps to cook things. The writing style is clear, direct, and yet has moments of levity and humor that aren’t often found in cookbooks. The recipes are interspersed with personal anecdotes, thoughts and lessons on food and food culture, and endless amounts of encouragement. While the majority of the chapters are based around fairly simple recipes, Rulhman brings new insight to the creation of those dishes, offering readers a chance to leverage their understanding of one skill and apply it to countless other dishes. While this book may not contain the most exciting range of recipes it’s hard not to get excited by the way Rulhman takes even the most daunting tasks and makes them feel not just possible but easy.   


Click here to read about Ruhlman's classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe "from scratch."
Click here to read about Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe “from scratch.”



Our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown Read more

Editor's Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them - Ruhlman's classic Five ...

Michael Ruhlman’s Classic Five-Layer Lasagna with Bolognese, Bechamel, and Mozzarella

Editor’s note – This lasagna recipe was taken from Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch cookbook, which was reviewed recently by Lindsey Menard. To read her review click here.

Lasagna (1)

The thing people often forget about lasagna is that while the end result is one beautiful bite of pasta, the lead up to that result is three to five individual, time consuming recipes that are all layered together to create that bite. There is no reason that you can’t skip some of those steps by buying dried pasta and fresh mozzarella, using store bought bolognese (gasp!), or substituting the bechamel for a blend of cheeses that will melt down to mimic the flavor, but there is definitely something satisfying about going through the motions of creating each of those components yourself from scratch. Taking a bite of lasagna, any lasagna, simply means more, becomes more special once you have made it once from scratch, as you learn how to decipher the different parts that have been layered together and acknowledge the hard work of the person serving it to you.

For our purposes we set out to make our lasagna mostly from scratch in that we wanted to use the shredded mozzarella we already had on hand rather than wait until we could seek out the ingredients (citric acid, rennet) that were missing from our pantry. We opted to make ricotta instead to balance the need for a creamier cheese to top our lasagna. We made the ricotta first because it’s one of the few steps you can’t hurry along by turning up the heat if you get impatient.

Lasagna 015
Lessons learned from making ricotta: It is incredibly simple. It also uses way more milk than you’d think.


Making pasta from scratch is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and is also something that gets far easier the more you do it. There are no real tricks to making pasta, you just have to take your lead from the ingredients you’re using and work at it until you learn the feel for what is correct and what needs adjusted. Having a pasta machine helps but isn’t necessary- the only thing that’s necessary is having the time and patience to work your dough until it’s done.

Lasagna 016 Lasagna 017

Lessons learned from making pasta: Always make more than you think you’ll need because there is absolutely no downside to having fresh pasta stored in your freezer for later on in the week.


Next come the sauces. Yes- sauces, plural. The first step, one you can absolutely skip if pressed for time but definitely enhances your feeling of accomplishment at the end is making your own tomato sauce as a base for the bolognese. This step is not complicated- it merely requires sauteing onions in olive oil (or butter) and then simmering them in pureed tomatoes over low heat for about an hour. If you’re using high quality canned tomatoes, you can definitely skip this step (and you can do so even if you aren’t) but embracing it lends a depth of sweetness and flavor to your bolognese that makes the added time worth it.

Lasagna 018
Lessons learned from making tomato sauce: don’t use an immersion blender in a short container- make sure whatever you’re blending has enough room to splash around without staining your favorite shirt.


Once that tomato sauce has simmered, or while it’s simmering if you have enough functional burners to run two things simultaneously, start to work on the Bolognese. Again, there’s nothing fancy here- Bolognese is simply a pot of chopped vegetables cooked for a long time with alternating choices of liquids starting with milk and wine, and ending with your beautiful tomato sauce. The most important thing about cooking the Bolognese is patience- let the individual pieces cook as long as they need to before moving on to the next step- there are few benefits to rushing them.

Lasagna 019
Lessons learned from making Bolognese: Precise knife cuts matter less when you’re cooking something over a long period of time. Also that there is milk in Bolognese- who knew?


The final component to make before you get to stacking is the Bechamel. Making Bechamel is basically an intricate dance of applying heat and creating motion so as not to let it become too hot. As I’ve said many times (twice) the two main ingredients of Bechamel are milk and a spoon.

Lasagna 020
Lessons learned from making Bechamel: Use a long handled spoon because it gets really hot really quick over the burner. Make sure you buy a ton of milk before setting out to make lasagna- seriously the dish is apparently mostly milk.


The next and final step is arguably the most fun. Take all of these delicious ingredients you’ve made and start stacking them together. Tomato sauce first, noodle second, bolognese and bechamel third, and repeat until your dish is nearly full and then sprinkle as much cheese as you can possibly fit on top. The lasagna needs to bake for an hour and then sit for forty-five minutes before it’s ready to serve so that it holds its shape which gives you plenty of time to let your mouth water over the sight and smell of a perfectly browned lasagna.

Lasagna 021

Lessons from making lasagna: Make sure you carve out enough time and space to make all the components. Many of them can be made days in advance and can be reheated to assemble when you’re ready. You never need as many noodles as you think to build your lasagna but leftover lasagna noodles make a great maltagliati later in the week. There are very few ways to irreparably ruin a lasagna.

Lasagna made "From Scratch" Read more

Editor's note - This lasagna recipe was taken from Michael Ruhlman's From Scratch cookbook, which was reviewed recently by Lindsey Menard. To ...

Panettone aPlenty

This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with a tour with two of our favorite Panettone producers—Loison and Filippi. One step (or really one sniff) inside the baking facility at Loison and we knew we had made the right choice. Even during their off season, a time when there are no ovens on, no cakes baking, and no ingredients in sight, the entire factory smelled like sugar, butter, and fluffy, decadent cake. We wandered around the production line—looking at the giant (seriously huge) stand mixers where they carefully mix the panettone dough, coaxing the ingredients to combine together in just the right way to create the light, airy cakes, the enormous ovens that bake hundreds of carefully handcrafted cakes at a time, and the inventive machines that flip those cakes upside-down straight from the oven to keep their shape. If you’ve never seen the process I definitely encourage you to take a look—it’s pretty incredible. And for those of you who have ever had any doubts about whether or not the Italians are some of the most thoughtful, patient, and purposeful people on the planet take my word for it- one bite of a perfectly baked Panettone is all you need to change your mind.

In addition to the attention to detail during the baking process two other aspects of the production of the Panettone really stood out to me. The first being the pride that emanated from the bakers at both facilities as they walked us through each flavor of Panettone they were preparing to make for this holiday season (between 20-35 each) and exactly where every single ingredient in each of those cakes was sourced. Single origin chocolate drops from Domori, untreated Madagascar vanilla beans (and never any artificial flavors), free range eggs, figs from Calabria, Lemons from Sicily and fresh milk delivered every day during the baking season; each ingredient is carefully selected for it’s quality of production and taste to create the perfect marriage of flavors for each cake. As the Pastry Chefs at Filippi say “Just as in an orchestra, to create a symphony, every instrument has to be in harmony with the whole, so it does not suffice that every ingredient is good on its own. Each ingredient has to amalgamate well with all the others…” Each year they revisit the flavors of the year prior, sampling dozens of varieties of fruits, nuts, and honeys, ensuring that their cakes are always created using the just the ideal balance of flavors and ingredients.

The second aspect that the Pastry Chefs at both Loison and Filippi were quick and proud to point out is that each one of their panettone is hand wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. Out of context that may not seem like a big deal but when you think about the thousands of cakes being produced every Christmas and the intricate and precise wrapping each of these cakes is adorned with you really start to get a sense of the magnitude of this process. And the result is spectacular—3as they said at Loison “The result is a product that is more than just a baked good: it’s also a gift, a furnishing item and a piece of art.” It’s clear in speaking with them that there is no detail of the panettone making process that is overlooked and the result of all of that effort and attention to detail is the essential (and most delicious) emblem of the Christmas holiday.

Don’t just take my word for it though- come see and sample for yourself! On July 25th we’ll be celebrating Christmas in July- we’re so looking forward to the holiday season that we can’t possibly wait any longer. Stop by our market and taste samples of this year’s spectacular concoctions, see that intricate and delicate paperwork and ribbons adorning these beautiful parcels and pre-order some of your favorites.

Tour (and tasting) with two of our favorite Panettone producers Read more

This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with ...

Pretty Pretty Peas

There are few greater joys in life than digging into an exceptional plate of pasta. The combination of perfectly hand rolled noodles and a rich, textured sauce is honestly what most of my dreams are made of. But no matter how many plates of pasta I delve into, no matter how many restaurants I visit, there is simply nothing that compares to the steaming bowl of chitarra with fresh spring peas we enjoyed on our most recent trip to Florence. It may not sound like much, but that combination of handmade chitarra with spring peas epitomizes the best of Italian cooking: simple ingredients and enormous flavor.

While nothing will truly match the experience of climbing down a tiny, steep stairway tucked away by the Ponte Vecchio and then descending into an impossibly small dining room bursting with mouthwatering scents and at least two too many tables, the magic of simple springtime pasta can be reproduced anywhere. This past Wednesday I was fortunate enough to witness this as Via Umbria’s Chef Liam LaCivita put his own twist on my personal favorite dish: his stringozzi with guanciale and fava bean puree was an exceptionally light yet toothsome pasta with the bright, fresh and almost nutty flavor of fava beans. Rounded out with the richness of guanciale, it was a rare, transportive moment.




Italian food runs on simplicity, both in its ingredients and its technique. It’s how our kitchen operates, and it’s how the best Italian cooking is born. Please note that there are a few stipulations, however: 1.) Your ingredients must have integrity, 2.) your technique must be thoughtful and 3.) you shouldn’t ever skimp on parmesan.

This recipe for a simple, 10-minute pasta encompasses these three pillars of Italian cuisine. It’s the dish Lindsey describes as “a little sweet and a little salty, simultaneously fluffy and velvety,” and one you’ll surely return to again and again.


Fresh chitarra for four (bought or homemade)

2 cups fresh peas, shelled

1/2 stick butter

Olive oil



Freshly grated parmesan


Bring salted water to a boil.  Add peas and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender and bright green.  Remove from pot and add pasta.  Cook 2-3 minutes until al dente.

Divide the peas into two containers.  Add butter and a drizzle of olive oil to one and puree using an immersion blender.

-When pasta is cooked add to pea puree, stir together until generously coated.  Add pasta water and a drizzle of olive oil as needed.

-Put in serving bowl. Top with remaining peas and grated parmesan and serve.

Chitarra with fresh spring peas Read more

There are few greater joys in life than digging into an exceptional plate of pasta. The combination of perfectly hand rolled noodles ...

Don’t Stub Your Toe!

Banner-San-ValentinoValentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t hurt) but because of the idea of doing something special for the special people in your life. Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always a bigger occasion in our house than in many. My parents would get up early to cook an enormous breakfast: eggs, bacon, waffles, strawberries, english muffins, regular muffins, donuts, and did I mention bacon? We would wake up just a little earlier than we did on a regular school day and all sit down together to enjoy our meal- at the end of which my father would reach behind his back and ‘spontaneously’ present us each with gifts. Always a card, a thoughtfully picked out card with a personalized message of love, appreciation, and advice (don’t stub your toe!), always a small box of chocolates, and always a little something extra he had picked out just for us.



People often complain that Valentine’s Day is a “commercial holiday” or a “Hallmark holiday” which I’m not here to deny. The idea that children are required to bring tiny scraps of paper with more candy than any of their peers should eat attached to it to school on February 14th every year is a little silly. The fact that it’s impossible to get a decent reservation at any restaurant during the entire week of Valentines day- whether it’s because they’re overbooked with couples or because they’re forcing an overpriced ‘Valentine’s’ themed menu on you is frustrating. And for sure the idea that Valentine’s Day is the one day you need to profess your love to someone is simply Hollywood nonsense.

But if you take it a step back, strip it down to its basic parts, why should we not revel in the chance to tell the special people in our lives that they matter? The key is to find the right way to do it. The tradition of a greeting card and a box of heart shaped chocolates is tired but that doesn’t mean the holiday has to be. For my family, Valentine’s Day was never about hearts, cards, and horseshoes but about taking the time to celebrate each other with one another on what would otherwise be a regular day of the week. For yours it might be about finally treating yourselves to those gorgeous place settings you’ve been eyeing for months and creating an exceptional dinner to plate on them. Or taking time out of your busy schedules to roll up your sleeves and take a cooking class together.  Or even just sharing a relaxing evening at home with the perfect bottle of wine. Whatever you choose to do, take advantage of the opportunity to treat the important people in your life to something special.  

If you’re looking for ideas for what to do, for something off the beaten path stop in and ask us- we’re happy to help you brainstorm ways to make this holiday as fun and memorable for you as it has always been for us.

Menard Family advice Read more

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t ...

Jennifer’s Saffron Risotto

Along with truffles, saffron is another traditional product from Umbria.  Found throughout Umbria, the most precious is found in Cascia.
Risotto Recipe

Saffron from Cascia Read more

Along with truffles, saffron is another traditional product from Umbria.  Found throughout Umbria, the most precious is found in Cascia.

A Labor(atorio) of Love

In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each other, their land, and their culture stand out. For me, there is no place in which this authenticity stands out more than around the dinner table. When I think back on the many (many) meals that I have enjoyed in Umbria, each one is colored with the rosy glow of being surrounded by strangers turned friends and friends turned family, all sharing stories, wine, and food and all living in the moment. The food is simple yet exquisite, the company is fascinating yet unassuming, and the conversation is energetic yet relaxed; every day brings a new experience and every night is a celebration. A visit to Umbria is truly an opportunity to experience authenticity in all aspects of what it means to be Italian.

Murder Mystery Dinner

This is the feeling that drives much of what we do at Via Umbria. We have created a space for friends and neighbors to meet, to eat, and to relax. A place to showcase the work of the amazing artisans of Italy, from ceramicists to winemakers, and to introduce their products and their stories to a new community. Above all, however, we are determined to recreate the feeling of sitting around a dinner table in Umbria- sharing food, telling stories, and creating memories- and from this the Laboratorio was born.

From the communal style seating to the open kitchen format, every aspect of the Laboratorio was designed with the Umbrian experience in mind. The space was created to be open, to be flexible, and to be interactive; in short it is our Laboratory, our space to explore and to create. For those of you who have yet to join us for dinner imagine it like this: take one part dinner party, add in one part of your favorite cooking show, one part wine tasting, and combine those together with a beautiful setting and an engaged group of friends and neighbors sharing a unique and unforgettable experience and you may start to get a sense of what I’m talking about.

Making Pizza

But as with all things, the best way to truly understand is to see it for yourself. Join us for dinner Thursday – Saturday night, or for brunch on Sunday for an unforgettable feast in our demonstration kitchen. Enjoy a Thursday night Demo and Dinner and let Chef Johanna Hellrigl teach you her favorite recipes from all over Italy before retiring to the communal table to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Visit us on a Friday night for a CYOB Dinner and let us teach you about a selection of wines from our unique cellar during a guided tasting before choosing your favorite bottle (or bottles) to accompany your meal. For the wine lovers, I encourage you to join us on a Saturday night for a Wine and Dine dinner where each of four courses is paired with a unique wine chosen and discussed by our experienced wine staff. And for those of you who crave relaxation at the end of your week, we welcome you to our Sunday Bottomless Bellini Brunch. No matter the format, no matter the day, a meal spent around our table will be one to remember.

Designed with an Umbrian experience in mind Read more

In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each ...

Meet Johanna Hellrigl

Head Chef Johanna HellriglVia Umbria is thrilled to announce the latest addition to our culinary team, Head Chef Johanna Hellrigl, who will be bringing her Italian culinary expertise to our dinners and cafe.

Have you always wanted to be a Chef?
Yes and no. I was born into a family with a Chef for a father and grew up in the restaurant industry so I’ve always had a deep admiration and respect for chefs and restaurateurs. Rather than following in the footsteps of my family, however, I was determined to prove I could do my own thing and seek out other passions. For four and a half years, I worked for a democracy building organization where I focused on empowering women from around the globe to increase their political participation. Through that experience I was fortunate enough to travel to every region and meet unique individuals. This had the added bonus of exposing me to the flavors, cuisines and cultures of many different countries.

When I wasn’t traveling, I found my solace in cooking. I would come home from a long day at work, excited to walk into the kitchen and create something. Cooking allowed me to use a different part of my brain and it became a way for me to relax and express myself. I sought out opportunities to cook for other people, inviting friends over to share a meal and taking the time to find my own voice in the kitchen. Cooking for my friends and for my (now) husband allowed me the time to explore this pursuit, and helped me realize that it wasn’t just something I did, it was something I had a real gift for, and a unique perspective on. It was then that I decided that this was the passion that I should be pursuing.

How did you start cooking?
My father was a world-renowned chef from Northern Italy and one of my first gifts was a [rubber] knife. One night he was cooking at home and handed me a zucchini to play with in the meantime with my rubber knife. I apparently cut the zucchini perfectly and my father was shocked- he said to my mother, this one will end up in the kitchen. Although my father passed away when I was only four years old, my mother embodied his spirit, continued to pursue his endeavors and kept his American dream alive through his restaurant in New York City. Her perseverance, despite his absence, in such a tough industry is what makes her my role model to this day.
Through the restaurant, I was able to learn the art of cooking from those my father entrusted with his recipes and techniques. Every Saturday was the highlight of my week. My mother would bring me to the restaurant, dress me up in my chef outfit and I would be placed in the pastry section (the other sections were too dangerous and fast paced for my age). I would help in any way I could and soak up all the lessons there were to learn. The racks of apple strudel to the utilization of a blow torch for the crème brulee are images that are ingrained in my memory. Years ago, I realized that my desire to bake as much- if not more than- I cook must come from the decade-worth of Saturdays spent in the pastry section.

How would you describe your style of cooking?
I think the most important thing when you cook is having respect for food and for the ingredients. Cooking shouldn’t be about piling things on top of each other to create an end result, but rather finding ways to highlight fresh flavors and make them complement each other as well as enhance their flavors. I’m a huge proponent of community supported agriculture and because of this I find myself drawn to seasonal ingredients, which is something that is central to Via Umbria’s philosophy and mission. My favorite challenge is to create menus based on what is available and I think that is where a chef’s creativity is really seen.
While my background has exposed me to many spices and unique flavors, many of which I use and love, I find myself always drawn back to Italian cooking and the history behind it. Traditional recipes and the Italian style of cooking is not about creating things that are complex or complicated, it’s about enhancing the flavor of ingredients by focusing on simplicity, balance and freshness.

How important are ingredients to your recipes?
In Italian cooking, and in my mind, ingredients are everything. Starting with quality ingredients is what makes or breaks a dish and I am fortunate at Via Umbria to have access to the highest quality, authentic Italian ingredients. Honestly, if you can’t actually be cooking in Italy, this is the next best place.
I strongly believe that you also get out of a dish what you put into it. I would rather take the time to blanch and peel fresh tomatoes than use canned tomatoes because the flavor is completely different, and to me that flavor is worth the extra effort. That having been said, when looking at a recipe, I think sometimes people get too worried about following the directions instead of trusting their instincts. I often compare cooking with a recipe to driving with a GPS system to navigate you: Nowadays when you drive you are completely reliant on a GPS system to get you to your destination. By just following each step of the navigation, you sometimes take the longer route, but because you’re following the directions so closely you don’t even realize that there might be a better way. However, if you take a step back and start to study the directions and the roads, you become more confident in creating your own directions and navigating yourself to find the what works best for you. I view cooking in much the same way. Study the ingredients in the recipe, familiarize yourself with what they are and what they taste like, figure out why you put them together and how the combination changes or enhances their flavors, and you will be more likely to understand the amounts and purpose of each ingredient. This in turn will allow you to experiment with the recipe, become more confident in the kitchen, and create a style of cooking that works for you.

What do you always keep the ingredients on hand for?
Homemade tomato sauce. It’s one of the easiest things to make, and yet something that makes all the difference when you’re cooking. I have never bought it from a jar and never will.

How did you end up at Via Umbria?
It honestly was a “right place at the right time” scenario. I was wandering through Georgetown looking for ingredients and inspiration for recipes and I happened upon the store. As soon as I walked in I was impressed by the selection and authenticity of the products- it honestly felt just like shopping in Italy. I walked from section to section, finding unique products from all over Italy, admiring the butcher counter and the cheesemonger’s selection, but when I walked into the Wine Room I was hooked. I found bottles from small production wineries in Alto Adige and Liguria and felt instantly that I had found a little piece of home in Washington. When I started talking to (owners) Bill and Suzy Menard, it became clear that we had a similar mission and passion- I am very dedicated to bringing awareness of Italy and what authentic Italian cuisine means, rather than the Americanized Italian foods, products, and ideas you see so often, and it was clear right away that this was something we shared.

Via Umbria uses the word “simple” to describe their food – how would you describe “simple”?
Italians have a tradition of making good food and respecting flavors and I think that’s a large part of what draws me to Italian cuisine. Simple doesn’t mean basic or bland, it means food that is organic in its composition. Overcomplicated food has been done- there are so many restaurants, amazing restaurants, where you can go and have a once in a lifetime meal with all the bells and whistles, but I want my dishes and the food we bring to Via Umbria to be something that you trust to always impress yet comfort your palate. We do unique and different things compared to other Italian restaurants in DC, but our primary focus is to draw people with our ingredients, flavors and the experience of community we have at Via Umbria. Food is the the tangible part of a meal, but there is so much more that goes into the overall dining experience. For me, mealtime is about the act of eating but also about the environment, presentation, and the people with whom you enjoy a meal, and none of that should be fussy.

What role does wine play in your meals?
If you ever have a meal in Italy or with an Italian, it’s easy to see that wine is an important part of the experience. Just as coffee is an important part of your breakfast in the morning, alcohol, whether it be beer, wine, or a spritz, is an important component of your evening meal. Because of this, and this idea that what you are drinking should enhance and bring complexity to your food, a lot of Italian winemaking ties in so well with regional foods. The winemakers in particular regions are creating things that taste good, but are also creating things that pair well with the foods that they are eating. Because of this, wines are what bring in the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to building the flavors of a meal and we have worked hard at Via Umbria to build a wine list and a retail selection that spans all of Italy’s regions, not just the most popular and most well-known, and to share our expertise with our dinner guests and retail customers to ensure they pick just the right wine for their meal.

What’s it like to cook in an open kitchen?
I’m incredibly passionate about food and bringing good food to people. I want to use my cooking to raise awareness of how easy authentic Italian cooking can be if you approach it the right way, and to empower people in the kitchen. Working in Via Umbria’s open Laboratorio kitchen is the perfect format for me because it really gives me the ability to engage with people and open up these conversations. Cooking in front of people, interacting with groups when they come in to eat, and walking people through the food as it’s served allows me to bring more to the table than just food- meals in the Laboratorio become more about the experience of eating than a typical restaurant. Every night I create a different menu which allows me to engage people in a new conversation and expose them to new regions and dishes. I get to challenge myself to explore different regions of Italy and the Italian landscape while creating an evening that is unique and memorable for our guests.

Q&A with our new Head Chef Read more

Via Umbria is thrilled to announce the latest addition to our culinary team, Head Chef Johanna Hellrigl, who will be bringing her ...

Sardinia? Don’t mind if I (su porche)du.

When July rolls around and the heat is out of control, there’s only one thought that crosses my mind: Get me to the beach. What better way to escape the summer heat than by spending a few days soaking up the sun (rather than hiding from it) and relaxing in the water? Unfortunately, an actual escape is not always possible and so I find myself wandering the internet daydreaming of vacations that could have been and ought to be.


Enter Sardinia. With its gorgeous coastline and lush mountains it’s the perfect escape for every type of traveler–especially those who are hungry. The contrast of the expansive coastline and the treelined mountains of this region has bestowed upon it one of the most unique, and enticing food cultures in Italy. On the beaches and coast locals and travelers enjoy seafood by the boatload–everything from spiny lobster, to octopus, to sardines, all locally caught and served straight from the sea. In the mountains, the food is more typical of country cuisine, based off of what you can raise and what you can grow–there is little crossover between the two culinary realms, and yet each are distinct and delicious in their own right.

As a pasta enthusiast, I find myself drawn in particular to the Malloreddus, a Sardinian spin on Gnocchi that is so good they made it their national dish. Slightly thinner than a typical gnocchi, and with an added dash of saffron, these little pasta ‘dumplings’ are the stuff that food-dreams are made of. Add a light tomato sauce with freshly ground pork sausage, garlic, and grate some pecorino on top and it’s a wonder anyone ever eats anything else.

Speaking of pork, let’s not forget the su porcheddu, a spit roasted suckling pig that’s tender, aromatic, and packed with flavor. Just the thought of this dish has my stomach growling. Though my toes may be in the imaginary waters of the Mediterranean, my heart will always be in Umbria, and my stomach will always crave a well prepared pork.

Su Porcheddu

For those of you who, like me, can’t always get away when you want to, Via Umbria is offering up the next best thing. Each week this summer we’re focusing on the cuisine from a different Italian region with the goal of touring you around Italy without the plane ticket or time commitment. Join us this week as we celebrate all things Sardinian with a Demo Dinner where you will learn to make your own malloreddus, a CYOB (Choose Your Own Bottle) Dinner and a Wine Dinner where you can taste the mouthwatering delights of su porcheddu, and a Sunday brunch with a Sardinian twist. With four distinct dining opportunities, and Sardinian wine specials all week long, Sardinia week at Via Umbria is the perfect way to turn your vacation dreams into stay-cation reality.

Sardinia's traditional spit roasted suckling pig Read more

When July rolls around and the heat is out of control, there’s only one thought that crosses my mind: Get me to ...

99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

Learning about Wine

There are few tasks more daunting than choosing a bottle of wine at a restaurant. Whether you’re an Everyday Enthusiast or simply a Weekend Wino, there’s always something slightly intimidating about being handed a list- or even worse, a book!- of wine names and being asked to choose the perfect bottle for your meal. In my experience, the struggle is attributable to three major factors: the pressure of picking a wine that everyone at the table (with their different tastes and food orders) will love, the impersonality of choosing a name from a page rather than a bottle from a shelf, and the price tag associated with what, nine times out of ten, boils down to simple guesswork.

Don’t get me wrong – I love wine. I love white wine, I love red wine, I love cheap wine, and (much to my bank account’s dismay) I definitely love expensive wine. The problem is, loving wine doesn’t always help matters much when set to the task of selecting wines for a particular setting. Which brings us to the question: how does one choose? What makes one vineyard’s Sagrantino different from another, and how do you know to choose between them? Silly as it sounds the answer seems to be ‘choose the one you like’.

Wine Tasting

Coming from a family that treats meal time with the same reverence as many would a church service, I have been fortunate to encounter some amazing food and wines. But as we eat and drink our way through Italy, one thing has become increasingly clear: learning the stories behind the wines, seeing where they come from, and meeting the people that created them imparts a special quality on each and every bottle. Even using the same grapes, and following all the same DOC regulations, vineyards all have a slightly different way of doing things, and it shows in their wines. While we may not remember the exact name of every bottle we’ve tried (especially after the second or third), our faces will always light up when we recognize a label, a vineyard we’ve been to, or recount the stories of an afternoon lost together in a tasting room – and this is an experience we want to share with you.

Augusta Pardi

On Friday evenings, Via Umbria is serving dinners CYOB (Choose Your Own Bottle). A step up from your typical BYOB, we encourage you to come a few minutes before your meal, and talk and taste with our wine staff to pick the perfect bottle for both you and your meal (at retail prices!) We’re excited for the opportunity to show you some of our unique bottles, all of which come from small production vineyards throughout Italy, tell you the stories behind them, and help you explore our selection to pick out something that you’re going to love. With nearly 100 distinct bottles to choose from, we’re sure we’ve got something for every palate. Our selection may not be considered typical; everything that we have, we have because we enjoy drinking it and we enjoy talking about it, and it’s meant to be interesting and accessible. You don’t have to know anything about tasting notes, wine regions, or Italian grapes, to enjoy these wines – although it’s great if you do. What’s most important to us in a bottle of wine is that you like it. Plain and simple.

So come join us for dinner at our Ristorante on Fridays, choose your bottle of wine (CYOB), and let’s head upstairs to share a meal. After all, drinking wine is great, but drinking great wine with great food is even better.

Discover our selection of Umbrian wines Read more

There are few tasks more daunting than choosing a bottle of wine at a restaurant. Whether you’re an Everyday Enthusiast or simply ...