By Julia Donnini
For eight years this month, locals have known where to get a good pizza, but chef and co-owner of Cucina Antica, William Wisell, has been in the kitchen for much longer. What started as a college job became the inspiration for his very own family-run Shelburne eatery.
Wisell grew up in South Burlington, but went to school at Plymouth College in New Hampshire. With a business major and math minor in the works, Wisell supported himself with a job at a Greek restaurant. “The way that the Greek family works is that the men work during the day and the women work at night,” Wisell explained. “So, the women do all the prep, which is what I learned.” Here, he began collecting recipes. “What we try to do at Cucina Antica is to take these older European dishes and add some modern flair,” Wisell said.
From there, he began running restaurants in Laconia, N.H. Wisell managed everything from a sandwich shop to a steak house. “These were all stepping stones,” he recalled. While still in Plymouth, Wisell met his future wife and business partner, Christy. An eight-year stint at a bakery in the area meant early mornings for Christy, but this extensive training now has her Cucina guests saving room for dessert at night. The couple started Cucina Antica out of their home in South Burlington. Since then, the Wisells have expanded their culinary creations to the well-known Shelburne location.
This week, William is jazzed to start the restaurant’s seasonal garden again. For someone whose favorite ingredients are all herbs, it’s no wonder he grows all his own. “The herb garden goes in this week, which we plant just out back,” Wisell said. “We’ll also put a few in the front and at home.” Parsley, oregano, and basil all make his personal cut—and it’s clear he can’t help but surround himself with them.
Clearly taking advantage of the new sprouts, Wisell is featuring a gnocchi dish on the menu. It’s served with sour cream and fresh chive. As we spoke, he multi-tasked, blending potatoes for the homemade recipe.
What’s your favorite thing to eat? “My cheesecake,” Christy chimed in with a smile. Agreeing, Will couldn’t resist adding the first answer that came to his mind—venison. “I pan sear it, add a little salt and pepper, and it’s done. That’s the Vermonter in me.”
Best meal? “Cliff Lodge in New Hampshire. I’m a hunter so I eat duck all the time. This was good duck.”
If you could eat a meal with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? “Abraham Lincoln, he’s my favorite president and a very smart man.” Wisell knows good company makes or breaks a meal.
If you could have had any other profession, what would it have been? “I would have been a professional baseball player. I was good—I played in South Burlington and at Plymouth for a bit.” Christy’s grin was indication that one dream come true has been enough.
Cucina Antica is located in the Shelburne Shopping Center and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 9 pm. Call (802) 985-1117 or visit www.bistrocucina.com for reservations.