Given the black-and-white photos adorning Vinny’s Italian Kitchen in Medford, it’s no surprise that the proprietor hails from a cooking family. Chef Vinny DiCostanzo descends from a line of restaurateurs reaching generations back east to New York, and even further to Ischia, Italy.
The surprise is that the DiCostanzo family once discouraged Vinny from carrying on that tradition.
“They wanted me to be a doctor, a lawyer, do anything but the restaurant business,” says DiCostanzo, who opened his Medford eatery in 2000. “My father always said, ‘I don’t want you to work like a dog like me.’”
But more than two decades later, DiCostanzo experiences the small business grind with a romance for process, creativity and camaraderie. By the same token, his public television program All Across Oregon profiles creators and entrepreneurs who chose the 3:30 am pastry alarm or the vineyard dirt under their nails—despite many easier, surer ways to make a living.
Airing on Oregon Public Broadcasting last October through January, Season 1 of All Across Oregon encompassed 10 episodes. The 26-minute installments, which feature DiCostanzo visiting three businesses per town, initially focused on Southern Oregon locales like Medford, Ashland, Brookings and Jacksonville. Conducting walkthrough-style interviews, DiCostanzo drops by restaurants, vineyards, aviation companies, zipline courses, ceramic studios and more.
“Show the viewer, through me, how amazing you are; that’s what I tell them,” says DiCostanzo of his interviewing approach. “Show viewers why they need to come here.”
Hosting comes naturally to DiCostanzo, but it was the pandemic that spurred him in front of the camera and onto the highway in his RV nicknamed “Ignacio.” Compounding COVID-19′s financial and emotional toll on family-run businesses, lack of patience from customers ran rampant, DiCostanzo observed. He conceived of the behind-the-curtain peeks of All Across Oregon to counteract “impatience” and “entitlement.”
“Let’s change people’s attitudes when they go into a shop or a storefront,” he says. “[Service industry workers] deserve to be shown respect. It’s about these families. They add so much substance to their communities that is overlooked.”
DiCostanzo’s hosting temperament is hyper-gregarious, with more than a few cornball dad jokes and a tendency to skip or shimmy as tours commence.
“If you watch me in my restaurant prepping when no one else is around…I love to dance,” he says. “Sometimes it’ll come out in a skip. Before I know it, people are laughing at me and I know I’ve gone too far.”
His unpolished, vivacious persona (not everyone’s first idea of a public television host) is part of the charm. That said, DiCostanzo hopes to hone his hosting chops in the forthcoming Season 2, specifically by working to stay present.
“I remember on one of our first shoots my co-producer said, ‘Dude, what are you doing? Pay attention,’” he says. “Because I was in a kitchen and I went into chef mode and started picking up after the chef and moving things out of the way for him.”
Next month, the All Across Oregon crew will fuel up “Ignacio” and venture out again. Though the show is still seeking Season 2 sponsors to support its six months of nomadic production, episodes are slated for Portland, Bend and Central California as well as Southern Oregon.
“Each season will go out a little farther,” says DiCostanzo, musing that a documented transnational excursion is the dream scenario.
Back on duty at Vinny’s Italian Kitchen, DiConstanzo says he hears approximately twice a night from patrons who’ve seen the show and, more importantly, have visited the featured businesses because of it. In one instance, diners had just returned from a 90-minute journey south to Etna, Calif., to visit Denny Bar and Etna Brewery, inspired by the episode “A Quick Stop South to Etna and Yreka, California.”
On top of that, the show’s window into local food production and diverse small business practices challenge and enliven DiConstanzo’s decades of running the kitchen Vinny’s way.
“All of a sudden you start visiting bakeries and ranches and see all the moving parts and all the different ways you can do things,” he says. “It blew my mind. It’s inspired me to be a better cook.”
SEE IT: Season 1 of All Across Oregon streams at sopbs.org.