Kitchen Confidential: Gabby Karan De Felice Looks to Grow Tutto Brand

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Gabby Karan De FelicePhoto Credit: Russell JamesWhen Gabby Karan De Felice and her husband, Gianpaolo De Felice, launched their first restaurant, Tutto Il Giorno, it was an instant hit with Hamptons scenesters and the East End power crowd—glitterati like Sarah Jessica Parker and Keith Richards were the norm on summer weekends. A second restaurant followed in Southampton four years later; it, too, became a hot spot, as did the Tutto Tribeca outpost when it opened in 2014, quickly turning into a mecca for the downtown art and fashion tribes.

Success breeds success, as they say, and the De Felices are looking to expand the Tutto brand. Sitting in the sleek lounge area of the couple’s restaurant in Tribeca, Karan De Felice, who goes by the nickname Gabby, says, “Maybe Los Angeles and Aspen and more in the Hamptons, even this summer.”

Karan De Felice, who is model thin and dresses with a fashion insider’s sense of easy cool (and why not? She’s design legend Donna Karan’s daughter) admits that when she and her husband opened their first restaurant, it wasn’t with the idea of building a hospitality empire. The catalyst for the first Tutto was a simple one. “Gianpaolo and his good friend David Mayer were looking for a place to go after a long bike ride, something on the water—not necessarily part of the Hamptons scene — where they could just get a good plate of pasta.”

De Felice, who is from Naples, likes to spend time in his native Italy. As plans for the restaurant took shape, “We decided to create a piece of Italy for him here,” Karan De Felice explains, “with the idea of friends and family being able to get together at a terrific spot.” Channeling a little bit of Amal on the East End came with a built-in head start: De Felice’s mother, noted for her cooking skills, visits her son and daughter-in-law in the Hamptons each summer. “So his mother and his life became the inspiration for the place,” she says.

In an era when Italian cooking can be oddly complex (pasta with black gs or chocolate, anyone?), the couple struck gold by sticking to delectable basics. “We like southern Italian. It’s lighter and all about fresh ingredients, farm to table. It’s how we eat in the Hamptons,” says Karan De Felice. On Tutto menus, you’ll nd such dishes as burrata and tomato salad, grilled octopus, spaghetti al pomodoro and roasted branzino. “Our most popular items are the simplest ones,” she explains. “I like to say our best ingredients are tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, sea salt.” Karan De Felice and her executive chefs Agostino Petrosino and Alex Apparu, determined that while each restaurant needed to have its own energy and vibe, a core group of dishes would make up a part of each menu. “There’s a thread, a philosophy, that carries through in each place,” she explains. “And if anything is too different, we hear about it!” (Karan De Felice says her mother’s go-to dishes are the penne with eggplant and the whole fish entrées. “Or anything with broccoli rabe. She’s easy and tends to like the same things. She is our best customer!”)

Asked if she cooks, Karan De Felice answers with a laugh. “Whenever I try to be hands-on, my mother-in-law tells me to leave the kitchen. But I do flowers, light candles and fluff pillows really well.” She describes her role in the restaurant group as being its creative director, and the über-stylish interiors — a blend of modern rustic-chic furniture and objets, seductive lighting and sophisticated neutral color schemes —are a credit to her on-trend aesthetic and taste. For the Tribeca Tutto, designed with Belgian architect Francis D’Haene, the goal was “to create an urban adaptation of a seaside locale,” and the result is a supremely sleek space that’s also a gorgeously lit stage set for the city’s stylish and beautiful who don’t need the soft lighting, but come to bask in it all the same.

The interior’s gray palette plays out on raw cement walls showcasing the work of her late father, Stephan Weiss, a noted sculptor and artist. In the main room, a floor-to-ceiling glass window frames a cascade of ivy, adding an outdoors feel to the urban setting. But even with the space’s designer-like perfection, Karan says her priority has always been to have customers “feel right at home.” As she walks through the dining area, she points to a communal table in the center of the room. ”See that? When we did the rst restaurant, we were told it was not going to work. People were throwing hissy fits.
“We need tables for two, four, six,” they insisted. Now you see communal tables everywhere.” Another friendly touch: Karan De Felice says the spacious banquettes flanking the bar in the entrance area were added to make people feel welcome the moment they step through the door.

Tutto Il Giorno Tribeca
Tutto Il Giorno Tribeca

Photo Credit: Luca Politelli

For Karan De Felice, creating seductive mise-en-scènes has long been a passion: When she was fresh out of NYU, she didn’t follow her mother into fashion, but rather showcased her creative talents by styling entertaining and design features for top magazines. “I worked for Glenda Bailey [editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar] and Amy Spindler at the [New York] Times.” Magazine work not only launched her career, it also provided the opportunity for a fateful encounter. “I met my husband on one of the shoots in southern Italy,” she says.

As for the main challenges of building and managing her business, Karan De Felice admits they come from the fact that restaurants have “a lot of moving parts.” She acknowledges her worldly clientele on the East End and in Tribeca have high expectations—for everything—whether it’s food, atmosphere or ambience. “And I want to make sure the Tutto experience is perfect,” she says.

While Karan De Felice has been a Hamptons regular since childhood, she now spends only part of her summer on the East End. She and her family head to southern Italy — the inspiration for all things Tutto — for at least a month. “I want to expose my children to the culture,” she says, and mentions that her daughter was recently in Italy to study the language and her son is enrolled in soccer camp in Milan.

When they are in the Hamptons, don’t expect to see the De Felices on the overheated East End charity circuit. “We’re on the boat a lot, bicycling, on the beach. For us, time in the Hamptons is for family and friends.”

GABBY KARAN DE FELICE’s FAVORITE:

Place in the Hamptons: “Where my house is, on Gardiner’s Bay in East Hampton. I like to go for long walks on the beach with my kids and watch my daughter ride on horseback.”

Boating route: “Going from East Hampton to Shelter Island. We’re always there.”

Beach: “We’re at Georgica a lot with the kids.

Hamptons restaurant: Tutto, of course.

New York restaurants (besides Tutto): “Indochina, for sure. Sette Mezzo—I’m an uptown girl; Bar Pitti—I’m also an Italian girl. I love, love, love Locanda Verde and all those Carmellini restaurants like Lafayette and the Dutch.”

Cocktail: “Our own Bicicletta, which is one part Aperol, two parts white wine, topped with club soda.”

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