Tara Gallina de Vicia has big ambitions for the catering service
When Tara Gallina from Vicia (4260 Forest Park Avenue; 314-553-9239) was in college, she had big plans for her career that had nothing to do with the restaurant industry.
âI was a journalism student at the University of Central Florida with big plans to be the next Katie Couric,â Gallina laughs. âI realized towards the end of the program that this was not what I wanted. What 21-year-old knows what he wants to do?
While in school, Gallina worked at what she describes as a “super cheesy” restaurant chain, but she never seriously considered that as a career path. Instead, she found herself working for nonprofits and then in human resources for a startup in Orlando. There she quickly rose through the ranks and eventually found herself at the head of the department, although her professional success did not equate to personal happiness. “I found myself overwhelmed by something I had no intention of getting into,” explains Gallina. “I had no idea how I got there, and I had this moment in my early twenties where I was unhappy with how everything had turned out.”
Gallina has always loved to cook, so she overcame her professional dissatisfaction by turning to cooking and starting a food blog. Over time, she realized that she spent more time working on the blog than at her job. As she began to wonder how to realign her priorities, the answer became clear: she should go to culinary school.
Gallina decided to enroll in the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York, thinking it would be a ten month stay. However, an internship at the famous Blue Hill in Stone Barns changed those plans. âI moved there for a six-month internship and it changed my life,â says Gallina. “It was like going to a graduate school for food and sustainable agriculture. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it sparked something in me that I always had. research.”
At Blue Hill, Gallina quickly became a key player in many facets of the restaurant, but it was the service element that really caught her attention. âBlue Hill is a magical place where eating is a story of fairy tales,â explains Gallina. âIt’s much more than serving tables; it’s about creating an experience for someone, and that’s what really stood out to me. ”
While Gallina became the restaurant’s duty captain, something – or rather someone else – captured her as well: Chef Michael Gallina. The couple fell in love, got married, and decided to return to St. Louis, Michael Gallina’s hometown, to open a place for them. In just five months, this restaurant, Vicia, has garnered nationwide acclaim, including by Eater and enjoy your food as one of the best new restaurants of the year.
While much of the credit for Vicia’s success can be attributed to what goes on in the kitchen, Gallina also takes pride in what goes on at the front of the house, although that’s one aspect that is. often overlooked. When asked why she thinks this is the case, Gallina has a few ideas. âI think it’s systemic. For so long, service jobs have been seen as a springboard for people trying to do other things,â she explains. âNot many people consider this type of work to be a long-term career. There is a perception associated with it. Telling his mother that you are going to grow up and be a restaurant manager does not have the same cachet as him. say you want to be a doctor or a CEO. ”
Gallina, however, tries to change this perception. She believes that as more and more people set the standard, professional service will be seen as a viable career path. âWe need more champions in our industry to help drive this change,â she said. One way to do this is to create a culture where everyone feels compelled to be their best and are committed to providing the best hospitality possible. âWhen you have such a culture, you feel it everywhere and you feel that everyone is committed to achieving those goals,â says Gallina. “I feel like that’s what we’re creating here.”
Gallina took a moment to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food scene, guilty pleasure, and crushes on St. Louis food – don’t tell her husband.
What’s the thing people don’t know about you that you wish they knew?
That I myself am a training leader! I started in the industry going to culinary school in New York City and tried many aspects of the food industry before I fell in love with the service. I have been and always will be passionate about cooking.
Which daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Walk our dogs Abby and Louie. These are the cutest little things, and spending time with them in the morning before we go and when we get home keeps things going.
If you could have one super power, which one would it be?
Be in two places at the same time.
What’s the most positive thing about food, wine or cocktails that you have noticed in Saint-Louis over the past year?
I haven’t been in the St. Louis industry for too long, but the overall positive thing I’ve noticed since moving here is the support restaurateurs and chefs have for each other. others. I was blown away by the respect people in the industry show in good times and bad. The competition will always be there, of course, but we also recognize that a good food culture has to have good options, and it’s a lot more fun to share that than to be negative and antagonistic.
What’s missing from the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you would like to see?
More attention to people who have made service their real profession. If we could promote and showcase front-of-house professionals the same way we do chefs, it would help our city (and our industry) put even more emphasis on great service. We need more leaders dedicated to teaching and nurturing young talent and showing them that this can be a great career path. Service can be sexy too!
Who is your favorite for St. Louis?
(Other than my husband!) It would have to be a collective combination of Sean Netzer, Ted Wilson and Brian Lagerstrom from Union Loafers. This restaurant seemed like a home to me since we moved here. They’ve created a place that really feeds you from stomach to soul.
Who is the only person to watch right now in the Saint-Louis food scene?
My friend Jen Epley, Deputy Managing Director at Vicia. She’s a rock star. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does and is crazy about wine knowledge. She took the opportunity to lead our beverage program and did so much more. From staff training to telling the story of the wines to our guests on the floor, she truly blossomed as a service professional and has found her place. The sky is the limit for her.
If you weren’t in the restaurant business, what would you do?
Write about the food. I went to college for journalism and really love and respect good food writing. I wish I could tell stories about our industry in print or on television.
What service practice is never permitted in your restaurant?
The word “no”. We always strive to meet the needs of our customers in any way possible. I taught our team from day one that when in doubt we first say “yes” and find a way to solve the problem together.
What is one thing you would like to see changed in food culture?
I wish customers would feel more able to share their reviews with restaurants in person rather than on the internet. Culturally, we have moved away from a time when people could answer the question “How did you like everything?” ” frankly. It’s so easy to express our frustration after the fact on social media. As restaurateurs, we would love nothing more than to know what went wrong for a customer and have the opportunity to correct it than to find out after the fact and be helpless. Our job is to do our best to create a great experience for people. When we fail to meet that goal, we want to know how we can do a better job so that we can keep you as a customer. I know nobody likes confrontation, but you’d be amazed at what a restaurant will do to make you happy if you let it.
What is your meeting place after work?
Vicia’s patio. Or when we’re hungry, Taste Bar or Mission Taco Joint in the Central West End.
What is your guilty pleasure in food or drink?
What would be your last meal on earth?
I don’t think I could really pick a dish, but I know it should be around a table with my husband, family and our dogs, sharing a good bottle of wine and just enjoying each other’s company .
We are always hungry for advice and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]