Salut! / The Chef

Meet Naples Winter Wine Festival’s 2024 Chef De Cuisine

For the two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Bartolotta, philanthropy is key.

BY January 17, 2024
Paul Bartolotta 2024 Naples Winter Wine Festival Chef de Cuisine
The Midwestern fine dining powerhouse built a reputation on elevated Italian fare dished family-style. Philanthropy is central for the chef, who runs the Care-a-lotta nonprofit. (Courtesy Images)

For Paul Bartolotta, it all starts at the table. He grew up in Wisconsin’s western Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants. “Our kitchen table was a place where friends, family and neighbors came together to share a meal and talk about life,” says the multi-award-winning chef and restaurateur. When he and his late brother, Joe, opened the iconic Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993, the formative experience of gathering served as their North Star. They called the idea of elevating community by bonding over food ‘The Bartolotta Table.’ The space is physical and mythical, a stage for sustenance of the spiritual and actual variety. Menus often recall  Nonna Federica’s recipes, like her mean pignoli-studded arancino.

Since then, Paul has grown his family of restaurants to more than a dozen, from Milwaukee, where Lake Park Bistro just celebrated 28 years, to the scenic shores of Nagawicka Lake in Wisconsin. He also serves on the board of the Bocuse d’Or and is recognized by the Italian government as an official ambassador of the nation’s storied cuisine.

The success and accolades are great, but to Paul, they serve a larger purpose. “We grew up in a home where we were taught not to worry about ourselves, but to focus on others,” he says. The ethos flows into Care-a-lotta, the restaurant group’s philanthropic arm. “Our purpose, our reason, is to elevate the communities in which we live and operate our restaurants,” he adds. Local high school students from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Pro-Start program practice in Bartolotta’s kitchens, and the chef partners with Milwaukee agencies to promote and preserve “the beauty and value of our parks and lakes,” he says. Every September, Paul is a fixture at TosaFest, Wauwatosa’s annual nonprofit celebration that raises thousands for local causes.

The chef’s efforts also extend to working with Make-A-Wish America, March of Dimes and NCEF. This year, he serves as the Chef de Cuisine for NWWF. “I have many friends that live in the area, and the foundation is very important to them, so it is important to me to give what I can,” says Paul, who has participated in the festival for four years.

Adding to the philanthropy is the sense of community. “I always look forward to collaborating with chefs I know and reconnecting with old friends,” including Naples’ own Vincenzo Betulia, the Sicilian-born, Milwaukee-raised chef who got his start at Paul’s restaurants. “The fact that we’re all gathered together for a great cause makes it even better.”

When the festival contacted Paul about his 2024 Chef de Cuisine designation, he was stunned—despite his two James Beard Award wins and televised chef appearances. “I’ve been honored to participate in and support the festival for many years, but I never expected the selection,” he says. “I can’t lie—visiting Florida from Wisconsin at the end of January is not a tough sell, either.”

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