Plant-Based Chef Cuts Teeth in Providence Test Kitchen

A lawyer by day, Pete Carvelli adds pop-up restaurant owner to his resume

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“I’ve been a vegetarian most of my adult life,” explains East Bay resident Pete Carvelli, the chef-owner and operator of Twelve (Plants) pop-up restaurant, “but I’d say the last four years have been entirely plant-based.” In 2018 Carvelli, who works full-time as a lawyer, decided to enroll in the Plant-Based Professional Certification course through Rouxbe, the world’s leading online culinary school, to learn new techniques and recipes for plant-based cooking. His “graduation” ceremony involved throwing a house party – back when such things were allowed – and preparing a multi-course meal for family and friends.

“And people liked it!” Carvelli recalls. The joy he derived from hosting that event sparked his desire to continue cooking. He noticed an ad on Instagram from Vinya’s Test Kitchen in Providence, saying they were looking for chefs. Massimiliano “Max” Mariotta of Vinya’s was offering his restaurant to budding chefs as a “test” kitchen – a place where they could create menus, execute their concept, and see if their restaurant would be successful. 

“Max was very receptive and got back to me immediately,” Carvelli explains. “I think he liked the fact I was an older applicant – I seemed trustworthy. But he needed to try my food first, a seven- or eight-course meal.” So Carvelli created a plant-based tasting menu, both for Mariotta, a chef himself who has opened restaurants all over the world, and Stefano, Mariotta’s son, a Michelin-trained chef. “I was very nervous,” Carvelli admits. “They’re both the real deal…I just cooked for my family.”

But Carvelli didn’t need to be nervous. “I remember it clearly – on the second bite of the second dish, Max said, ‘Let’s put something on the calendar.’ That was a big moment.”

Prior to this, Carvelli had already made several career shifts, working as a photojournalist, then a reporter, shifting to a stay-at-home dad, and then becoming a lawyer, which has been his profession for the last 12 years. Adding a pop-up restaurant to the mix seems like an impossible task, but Carvelli is able to balance it all. 

“It took me 50 years, but…when you find your passion, you pursue it.” 

Before the pandemic, Carvelli was regularly appearing at Vinya’s on Monday nights with a multi-course, plant-based tasting menu. “I don’t preach a plant-based lifestyle,” Carvelli says. “It’s a restaurant, not a soapbox.” But he does want to showcase the creativity and diversity of plant-based living, and this unique dining experience attracted people from all over the state. 

Two such people were Paul and Kate Webber, the owners of Root in Newport. They happened to attend Twelve (Plants)’s penultimate dinner before Vinya’s was forced to close, and the couple stayed in touch with Carvelli throughout 2020. When restaurants began to reopen later in the year, the Webbers offered their space for Twelve (Plants) to host Friday night dinners, which is where you’ll find Carvelli again this spring.

“I have some ideas percolating for the future,” Carvelli says. “I’d like to shift the focus to my Italian heritage, but these multi-course dinners are a niche I’d like to continue to work on.”

Learn more at TwelvePlants.co or follow @twelve.plants on Instagram

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