Chef Gio Osso: Doing It His Way
How did an Italian kid from New Jersey grow up to become one of Arizona’s most celebrated fine dining chefs? After learning about Chef Gio Osso’s upbringing and career path, it seems that all of his work and life experiences have led him to where he is today: the owner of one of Arizona’s most acclaimed restaurants, Virtu Honest Craft. Five years after the opening of Virtu in Old Town Scottsdale, the culinary community and patrons continue to rave about Gio’s exquisite cuisine, which he describes as “Van Halen meets Mozart,” a symphony of simplistic dishes with explosive flavors.
Growing up in New Jersey, Gio spent every Sunday cooking with his Italian family and every summer at their farm in Calabria, Southern Italy. These experiences, along with his mother and grandmother, drove his passion for food and greatly influenced his cooking style.
After graduating from the New York Restaurant School in 1993 at the top of his class, Gio worked in several restaurants in the Northeast, learning the restaurant business and being mentored by some of the area’s best chefs. One of his East Coast mentors invited him to come to Arizona in 2002 to help at his new restaurant. Gio had a series of restaurant jobs in the valley and experienced some challenges along the way.
In 2010, after working a variety of consulting and chef jobs, Gio’s career took an interesting turn when he began working for HMS Host to bring some of the valley’s best restaurants to Sky Harbor Airport. “It was an amazing learning experience,” says Gio. But the corporate life wasn’t for him. He wanted an opportunity to express himself and create his own dishes. “I wanted to set the trends,” he says. “Not follow someone else’s.”
In early 2013, Gio was having breakfast at the Bespoke Inn, a small bed and breakfast in Old Town Scottsdale, and learned that the owners, who’d been doing the cooking themselves, wanted someone else to take over. Gio knew this was an amazing opportunity to create his own restaurant and execute his vision.
Virtu opened in June 2013 to great local reviews and national recognition. Virtu was named one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America and received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant. Gio was inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame in 2015 as Chef of the Year. Gio describes Virtu as his ‘baby’. He is extremely thoughtful and artistic about every ingredient on every dish, and changes the menu several times a week with the availability of fresh produce, seafood and protein. He uses local suppliers but also likes to bring in items that Arizona diners might not have seen before.
Three items on Virtu’s menu that never change are the Bistecca Tagliata, a tomahawk steak for two; the Asparagus served with duck egg, feta, bacon candy and foie gras hollandaise; and their famous octopus, an ingredient Gio grew up eating. The ‘polpo’ (Italian for octopus), which has been named one of the Valley’s best dishes and is Virtu’s top seller, is served with lemon marinated chickpeas, Calabrian chile butter, and an arugula and fennel salad. Fresh pasta is also always on the menu as well.
Virtu’s first five years have brought a lot of learning, change and expansion, and Gio is excited about the future. He believes there is a lot more to achieve at Virtu and he has great expectations for the Arizona culinary scene.
In addition to being a passionate chef, Gio is a dedicated family man. He lives in Gilbert with his wife (who he met while working at the airport) and three children, all under the age of four. While he spends many late nights at Virtu, he gets up early every morning to spend time with his family and loves to cook for them whenever he can. He even opened a restaurant in downtown Gilbert called Nico Heirloom Kitchen, named after his first son. Nico will be participating in AZ Food & Wine’s “Taste About: Downtown Gilbert“ on June 7, 2018, along with nearly a dozen other reputed restaurants. For more information or tickets, click HERE.
While Gio is an accomplished chef and restauranteur, he has yet to achieve his ultimate professional goal. “I would love to win a James Beard Award,” he says. “That would really open up doors for me and be my legacy.”
With the trajectory Gio is on, a James Beard Award seems extremely likely in his future.