The Essentials With Rita Sodi and Jody Williams: Harry’s Bar, Rimowa and 10 Years of Via Carota

The James Beard Award-winning chefs are celebrating 10 years of Via Carota, but they’re not done creating restaurants yet.

Rita Sodi and Jody Williams. Via Carota

Rita Sodi and Jody Williams grew up thousands of miles apart, but fittingly, food is what ultimately brought both of them to New York City, where they first crossed paths. “We’re totally different, but we just have this bond in cooking,” Williams tells Observer from the duo’s Spazio Creativo storefront in the West Village. “When it comes to work and design and just the grit, we want to learn everything.”

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For Williams, that learning experience began in a career as a self-taught chef in California, before relocating to New York City and later, spending several years learning how to perfect Italian food right from the source, in Rome. Meanwhile, Sodi, who grew up surrounded by her mother’s Italian cooking in Florence, took a less traditional path to becoming a chef. Sodi was in fashion until she was 45 years old; more specifically, she worked in product development for Calvin Klein jeans. “I was traveling everywhere for work—Europe, Asia, Australia—and I started to miss the food I grew up with that was so important and meaningful for me.” Having traveled to New York City regularly for work, Sodi decided to follow her passion and move to the West Village to open her own restaurant. “I was not thinking about how difficult it was, but it was very hard to be in a new city, new language, never having had a restaurant before.” Not letting that deter her, Sodi opened her namesake restaurant I Sodi in 2008, and it was the authentic Tuscan cooking that first got Williams’ attention.

“My friends kept saying, ‘you have to eat in this restaurant,’ and I’m working all the time at a restaurant nearby, so I can maybe get there at 10 p.m.,” says Williams, who opened Buvette, a French-inspired gastrothèque, in 2011. “I think the first time I got there, I couldn’t figure out how to open the sliding door, and I felt so embarrassed that I left. Then, the next time, I get the door open and the bartender says, ‘Sorry, we’re closed,’” she recalls. Eventually, Williams got the timing right, and after a seasonal meal that included plenty of fresh asparagus, she met Sodi.

Now partners in real life, Sodi and Williams decided to join forces professionally, too, establishing their status as a culinary dream team with the opening of Via Carota in 2014. “We decided to open a restaurant together when we were not able to see each other anymore because we were too busy,” Sodi says of Via Carota’s beginnings. “That was the joke, but it was true,” Williams adds, noting that they jumped at the opportunity to sign the lease for the Grove Street address when the space opened up. “That menu took shape because we wanted to go have everybody’s contorni, so there are all of these vegetables and sides and then a little fish and a little meat,” she explains.

10 years in, Via Carota has become one of the city’s most coveted reservations, but Williams and Sodi didn’t stop there. In addition to their respective restaurants and Via Carota, they’ve since built up two more spots in the West Village: The Commerce Inn, an early American-inspired restaurant, and Bar Pisellino. “The space came up and we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re missing a bar to go to in the morning and have a coffee, have a little chat and go to work,’” explains Sodi of their vision for the Italian-inspired bar, which also serves as the perfect spot for an aperitivo. 

While Sodi and Williams are hesitant to get too specific about future projects, from listening to them discuss their new Hudson Valley home in upstate New York and their love for collecting vintage pieces, it’s clear that they’re not short on creative inspiration. “We fell in love with a [restaurant] space in Hudson, and we can start to imagine what we can do there,” Sodi says of how they landed on their next project, while spending time gardening and cooking at their home nearby. “We’ve got a handful of stuff on the stove,” Williams confirms, adding, “We want to create places we want to eat in, we want to be in, places that we need.”

As Sodi and Williams continue to expand their culinary empire, they shared some of their current essentials with Observer, from the skincare staples that help Sodi start her day to the New York City shops Williams frequents.

Sisley Paris. Sisley

Morning skincare routine: 

RS: The morning is the only moment that I take for myself, so even if we have to be out of the house at 7 a.m., I wake up earlier. We have two cats, so I take care of them, I make coffee for both of us and I have my skincare routine. I love the Sisley Floral Toning Lotion, and they have this cream that is called All Day, that is a must because it has pollution protection. We are big fans of 2 Note upstate. They do organic hand soaps and lotions, and we use their products in our home and in all our restaurants

What they’re reading:

RS: Right now I’m reading A Walk in the Park, and it’s a story about these two friends, they go hiking in the Grand Canyon. One of them says it will be like a walk in the park, but it looks like it was very, very difficult. Its got adventure, and it’s very interesting because it’s talking about the story of the Canyon.

JW: Adam Moss wrote a book recently called The Work of Art, and it’s a collection of artists, writers and chefs on their creative process. He asked us to explain our process. But what strikes me, is that it doesn’t matter what you’re making, there are so many similarities in how people create.

The Gritti Palace. Gritti Palace

Favorite vacation spot:

JW: We’re loving our home upstate. We think we love to go canoeing, so we plan these elaborate trips with all the gear and maps, and then we come back the next day because we’re not camping. When we go back to Italy, we love to just hang out and be [within] walking distance to Harry’s Bar in Venice. We’ll be there all day; we’ll have lunch, move to the bar and have drinks, move back to another table in the dining room and have dinner, and walk through the neighborhood and shop before stumbling back to The Gritti [Palace, a Luxury Collection hotel]. If you’ve got a room that opens on the Grand Canal or you can walk out and have coffee at Caffè Florian, it’s great.

What they’re traveling with: 

RS: We try to carry on. Our computers, our phones, chargers—all of these tools are never far from us. And I have my Sisley skincare routine in small sample sizes so I can just throw them in my bag.

JW: We have the aluminum suitcases from Rimowa, and I will never upgrade—the more dents, the better. You’ve gotta have headphones, and I got this great down travel blanket that comes in a little bag, so that I don’t have to use the one on the plane.

Three Lives bookstore PHOTO Jemma Dilag for Observer
Three Lives bookstore. Jemma Dilag for Observer

New York City favorites:

JW: We live in our places, but I love Té Company on 10th Street and Three Lives bookstore. We use McNulty’s for all of our tea in the restaurant, and we have this delicious breakfast tea blend they do for us, which is sort of an English breakfast with a little bit of vanilla in it.

The wardrobe items they’re never getting rid of: 

RS: I always keep Aspesi white shirts in cotton and linen for spring and summer, and Loro Piana cashmere in the wintertime.

JW: I love J.M. Weston loafers; they’re just resoled, repaired. Rita bought me a Fay jacket with metal clasps, and I think there’s a piece of duct tape on the edge of the sleeve where it’s worn out.

The Essentials With Rita Sodi and Jody Williams: Harry’s Bar, Rimowa and 10 Years of Via Carota