Molly Del Monte is the 30-year-old chef at Vutera, a two-month-old, 48-seat candlelit restaurant stowed away with a wine cellar directly beneath the creaky floorboards of Rose Live Music in Williamsburg. Now that the weather is warming, the patio at the back of the venue has opened as a second dining room, and Del Monte is at the ready, cooking seasonal food in a diminutive kitchen outfitted only with four scrappy burners and an old convection oven. She talked to us last Friday about the weirdness of getting reviewed, and why the Golden Girls are an essential part of a perfect day off.

So far, the reviews have all mentioned that you cook out of a small kitchen here, but I really think you have one of the smallest kitchens in the city back there.

It’s just rough. It’s just me and my cook during service. We don’t have room for a kitchen staff, really. I receive deliveries, prep the food, sometimes wash dishes during service. I also cook the food.

How do you manage to do all that? I took up drinking. Kidding [laughs].

What’s your beverage of choice? Well, I’m buddies with these two bartenders who work happen to work on Sundays, which is my day off. One starts work at 4 and the other starts at 6. One of them makes this really yummy lemon vodka thing that’s really refreshing.

How did you get started cooking? I always wanted to cook since I was a little girl. I graduated high school and felt pressure to go to college but I never, ever really wanted to go. I went to art school in San Francisco but my heart wasn’t in it. In San Francisco I managed to get into a skateboarding accident—I fell and hit my head and had to go to the hospital for four days—so during recovery a friend and I took a road trip to Utah because I couldn’t work. I got to thinking my life wasn’t going the direction I wanted it to go, and then I realized: I always wanted my own restaurant. Six months later, I moved to New York and enrolled at FCI and the rest is history.

Where was your first restaurant job? My very first restaurant job was as a cashier at this place called Hungry Burger. It was a little hamburger stand, and even though I was in the front I learned to make fries and got to spend time in the kitchen. I would sneak in the back when the boss wasn’t around and make burgers for my friends. I guess my first real restaurant was in New York, though, at Tabla. I was there for a year.

Did you immediately like working in a restaurant? I learned a lot at Tabla. Being straight out of school, I was at the bottom of totem pole the whole time I was there. I got my ass handed to me in a lot of ways. I think what I took away most from that experience was getting the feel of kitchen dynamics and working in a real kitchen.

And then you worked at Savoy and Lupa, and you were the sous chef at Little Giant. How’d you get hooked up with this job? I answered a Craigslist ad. They had been serving some food here before that time, but it all started coming together when I met with [Vutera’s general manager] Hugh Crickmore and he started talking about the potential of the space.

Describe your style of cooking.
It’s simple and straightforward. That’s all.

So in your kitchen you have four induction burners, a small convection oven, and virtually no counter space or storage. How do you pull it off? Does everything have to be planned out far in advance? Because the food is so simple, I don’t put in more than twelve hours a day. But I do work twelve-hour days. And the space is small. I have a small table to do all my prep. [Note: it’s essentially a 4-foot-square hunk of butcher block next to a refrigerator]

And between downstairs and the garden, Vutera has 96 seats. Are you ever completely full in both dining areas?
It happened for the first time last Saturday.

How do you do it? Well, I drink [laughs]. Just kidding. No, seriously, the front of the house is great because they’ll stagger tickets as much as possible. I don’t know how it works. At the end of last Saturday I was exhausted, but we did it.

If someone gave you the choice of one new piece of kitchen equipment to help you out, what would you get? Probably more burners. Or another cook.

You worked in Italy when you finished the French Culinary Institute and basically wrote these candid blog posts about it. How did you end up in Italy? Well, first off, I wrote the letters home for my friend, Miss Ginsu. She’s a really cool chick. I always wanted to live abroad, and I got hooked up with this job through the FCI board. The restaurant I worked at, Montali, was in the middle of nowhere. It was hard going there, coming straight from New York. Workdays were from 8 a.m. to midnight, basically, with a one or two-hour siesta, in between, but you couldn’t go anywhere because everyone else was sleeping and the town closed down. We had a Fiat Uno 45 to drive around, but if you leaned back the whole seat would fall apart, so you had to stay hunched forward.

Sounds bad. It was a great experience. I actually have the restaurant’s cookbook here today. While I initially had a difficult time there, and it got worse and worse, toward the end all of a sudden I really started loving it. It was a culture shock in the beginning, but then it was really amazing. Everyone spoke English, including these Slovakians who worked in the kitchen with us. Essentially they’d talk about us in Slovakian, so we started talking with these really heavy Southern drawls so they couldn’t understand what we were saying. But it was all in good fun; it was a great personal, not professional, experience for me.

Is there some kind of lesson you took away from that experience of working in Italy?
I would say that it was not to write personal emails on the house computer, because the boss read one of them.

That’s cool. Can you talk about what you consider when putting together the ingredients of each dish? When Hugh [Crickmore] and I started talking about the food and wine, we decided we really wanted to emphasize local Brooklyn producers. We use Mast Brothers chocolate, for example, though not as much as we’d like to. We use Salvatore Ricotta, made in Brooklyn from Hudson Valley milk. We want to be as Brooklyn and local and NY as possible.

2009_05_downstairs_vutera.jpg
The downstairs dining room.

So all of your foodstuffs you work with here have to be hand-crafted and then delivered by someone with a beard. With a beard? Oh yeah, and it has to be bushy, too. And they have to have lots of tattoos. Homemade tattoos.

Can you pick one dish on your menu and talk it?
My favorite dish on the menu is the bavette [Bavette steak with roasted potatoes, Romesco, and grilled ramps; $17]. The romesco sauce is nice, and the grilled ramps, well, I took that from working at Savoy. Peter Hoffman grills calçots, or wintered-over leeks, in the street on a huge grill. And the bavette, that cut of beef speaks for itself. It doesn’t need anything done to it except be cooked nicely. It’s our steak and potatoes dish.

2009_05_patio_vutera.jpg
The patio.

Vutera has been open for a few months now and is going into the review cycle. Is that a nerve-wracking process, or strange at all for you? Absolutely. Up until two months ago nothing came up when you Googled my name. Every waking moment these days is work. I’ve sacrificed a lot, too; my personal life is nonexistent at this point.

Have the reviews impacted business? Absolutely. We’re busy every single night now.

I read your mom sends you citrus from California that you work into your menu here?
She has a Meyer lemon tree. Well, it’s actually the neighbors’ tree that she picks the lemons from. [pause] Well, okay, the tree’s branches hang in her yard. [clears throat] Anyhow, it’s huge. The lemons fall and they tell my mom to take them.

Name an underrated restaurant in the city. One of my favorite places ever is Lunetta, on Smith Street. A friend named Dave Sclarow works there. I met him when we worked at Tabla. He also built the portable brick oven that makes pizzas at the Brooklyn Flea. I’ll go to Lunetta and sit at the kitchen bar and he’ll just send things.

How about a favorite late night place to grab a bite to eat?
Most of the food I eat comes from my bodega. Sometimes I’ll go to Ali Baba, across the street from Mamoun's. That place has hot sauce that will make you cry. It’s so delicious. I ask them what’s in it but they won’t tell me!

So you have a cousin who is also a chef, and she’s even written a cookbook. Do you two have any plans to team up for a Voltron-esque cooking project at some point? Domenica lives in Houston and is already on television a lot there. So, you know, we’re going to film something in the future, a pilot episode for a prospective television show—Domenica and I have talked about it for a long time. My cousin Celia Sepulveda would also be on the show, but she doesn’t know a lot about cooking. Then we want to get my cousin Anthony involved to produce it. We want my brother in there, too, in the background, playing drums. The show would be called Cooking Cousins. We’re just going to film something, maybe soon, and maybe it’ll be lame, but maybe it’ll be great and I’ll make $100,000 a year, like Rachael Ray-style.

I think Rachael Ray might make a little more than that.
Sure [laughs].

Why don’t reviewers understand your beet green pesto? I don’t know.

What’s your idea of a perfect day off? For starters, I’d wake up at 8 in the morning—

09_05_golden_girls.jpg
Thank you for being a friend: Del Monte's tote bag.
So, like, super late. Yeah. And I’d feel really rested, maybe take a yoga class, then watch some 90210 on Soap Network. Maybe some Melrose Place, or Golden Girls, or Gossip Girl. It would be 78-80 degrees and sunny, with a slight breeze. And I’d be having a good hair day, and I’d be wearing makeup. I love wearing makeup on my day off because I never wear it in the kitchen. Then I’d meet up with my girlfriends, go out for brunch, and get a cheeseburger. Then I’d go shopping and it would be one of those trips where everything fits. Then I would go drink cocktails or something.

Where's your cocktails spot?
A great friend of mine, Joe Swifka, just started at Elettaria, so I’m excited to see what he’s doing there. He used to make me special drinks at Little Giant all the time. Michael Cecconi of Savoy and Back Forty also makes insane-good cocktails.

Name a chef you admire.
Most of the people I admire are line cooks I’ve worked with along the way. A friend of mine named Howard Kalachnikoff just made sous chef at Gramercy Tavern and I’m really excited for him because he is just so extremely talented.

Have you worked with any inspirational pot-washers? Oh my god. My dishwasher that works with me here, is so great. I call him Monkey, but his name isn’t really Monkey. I have a bad habit of giving people nicknames after edible things.

People don’t really eat monkeys. That’s true, I guess. I nicknamed a guy at Little Giant I called The Baby Muffin, though; it's names like that. Anyhow, Monkey doesn’t really speak any English, and one day my cook, Monkey, and I were just hanging out in the kitchen and I said something to him and he just yelled “fuck you” at me. He had heard someone say monkey on the subway once and thought I was saying something mean to him. But my mom calls me monkey, so I had to explain to him that my mom calls me that. She actually sends me letters addressed to Molly Del Monkey and I have to beg her not to.

She writes "Molly Del Monkey" on the envelope? Yes, and I hate it [laughs]. But she’s a really amazing mom.