Chef Joseph Ludwick, the head Chef of Palio Ristorante Ann Arbor, wasn’t born and raised in a kitchen but he soon found his way there and it was his love for food and cooking that ignited his future.
Chef Joe was inspired by his late mother’s skills around the stove and cooking was a big deal in the home. “My dad’s family is Sicilian so I grew up in a household where we were playing with a lot of Italian food,” he said.
At 17, Chef Joe worked at a hometown pizzeria, Slice of Spice. It was there at his first restaurant job when he realized he wanted more than just a slice. He wanted to be a chef. “I got my first job in the restaurant business at 17 as a dish washer and then got a job as a line cook,” he says. “Looking out into the dining room and seeing the guests enjoy their food and being able to bring that kind of enjoyment to them really pushed me into this business.”
He felt a great sense of pride when he looked out into the main dining room and could see the guests enjoying the food that he had the honor of making. This feeling encouraged Chef Joe to pursue an education at The Art Institute in Michigan for culinary arts.
Chef Joe started at Main Street Ventures Restaurant Group in February 2017 and has worked at different concepts including The Chop House Ann Arbor and was involved in the opening of Palio Maryland. Among his favorite dishes at Palio is the Pollo Milanese which features a butterfly cut, parmesan crusted chicken breast that is prepared pan fried and served over roasted seasonal vegetables and potatoes with a lemon beurre blanc and garnished with fresh arugula and heirloom tomatoes.
Working for Palio Ristorante Ann Arbor and for Main Street Ventures Restaurant Group comes with high expectations and that is one of the reasons why he is proud to call Palios home.
“First and foremost as a company we have very high standards,” he says. “We go through everything that comes into our kitchen to make sure it meets our standards. We are a scratch-based kitchen so everything we do, we make it in-house. Everything has to be cooked right and seasoned properly and we hold our staff accountable for how the food goes out.”
One example of the high standards at Palios is with the quality of their fish. Palios, like all the restaurants that make up Main Street Ventures, is part of the Fresh Catch program. “That means we get the last 10 percent caught and the first 10 percent off the boat which means it’s the freshest fish from that day’s catch,” Chef Joe explains. “We work with a very reputable Boston based company that has been around a long time and we’ve had some chefs go out there to see the process and how it works.”
There is a full menu of excellent restaurants in Ann Arbor but Chef Joe believes Palios is special.
“I feel we are a little different than the restaurants on Main Street,” he says. “We are rustic. We are family style. Our rooftop dining area is so beautiful in so many ways. It’s just an incredible atmosphere up there. We take incredible pride in what we do.”
One of the more popular sauces on the menu is the classic-style rustic Bolognese, one that Chef Joe is particularly proud of. “A lot of Italian restaurants have the Bolognese sauce but ours is more rustic in how we do it. It’s more authentic to Italy.”
Chef Joe doesn’t just take pride in the food he prepares, but the entire operation at Palios. It’s a team working together and all being focused on delivering the best product in the best way.
“You eat with your eyes,” Chef Joe says. “If the server doesn’t look clean or the restaurant isn’t clean are you going to think the food is clean? When you come in here the restaurant is clean and neat. The plating and table sets are perfect. Our manager Vince holds the servers to very high standards and that’s important because they know what’s expected out of them every time they approach a table.
“We know if we are not hitting our mark and delivering the high standards people expect they will go somewhere else next time and we want people coming back.”
Vincent Verardi is the general manager at Palio Ristorante and praises Chef Joe not only for his cooking but his work ethic and dedication to the entire restaurant.
“Speaking from a general manager perspective, what Chef Joe brings to the table is great leadership by example,” Verardi says. “He has a great work ethic and everyone who works with him sees that. But that’s what it takes to become a chef at the top of your field. He wants to succeed and puts in the time and the effort. And not just in the kitchen. During our down time he helps with a lot of the repair work around the restaurant and he’s probably painted 75 percent of the walls in this building.”
Like his mother did with him, Chef Joe now shares his love of cooking with others, including his daughter, Alora, who at only 2 years old can already toss a saute pan.
Cooking certainly runs in the family.