At first glance, Michael White seems an unlikely contender for the title of “Prince of Pasta.” The chef doesn’t speak with an Italian accent (he’s from Wisconsin) or boast of ancient bloodlines to the Boot. But none of that matters when you taste the man’s food: It’s pure Italian, soulful and true.

White has built his own legacy, training under the masters, living and working in Italy, and slowly but surely developing his own distinct style with the cuisine. He spent seven years working at San Domenico, a fine-dining institution in the gastronomic wonderland that is Emilia-Romagna, before coming to New York to run the now-shuttered Fiamma in 2002.

Since then, he’s launched a series of ragingly popular regional Italian restaurants—Marea, Osteria Morini, Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, and more—and shows no signs of slowing down (Ristorante Morini on the Upper East Side and Osteria Morini D.C. are slated for 2013, as is his much-anticipated Tribeca spot, Butterfly).

A gregarious talker—especially when it comes to Italy—White has a lot to say about the early experiences that led him to create some of his most iconic dishes, like the fusilli with red wine-braised octopus and bone marrow that he can “never, ever take off” the menu at Marea.

Here, White shares his influences and memories, plus pro tips for closing the deal with a lady (hint: it involves dining al fresco in the South of France).

This interview has been condensed and edited.