When did your adventure as chef started?
I was only 14 and started in a beautiful hotel on Lake Maggiore.
Was it a vocation?
In fact the vocation was to travel and be independent. I realized that working in restaurants could offer both.
Which has been your greatest satisfaction doing this job?
See the guys who started working with me many years ago now working as established chefsin prestigious restaurants of which with many of them I’m still in touch.
Where are you working now?
Right now I’m working in Singapore where I’m taking care of the opening of the Italian restaurant “Saffron” on behalf of the party food company “Concept group”.
What kind of cultural research, and at what level of quality and quantity you do with your cooking?
The information is constantly being updated from the study of the equipment to the new processing techniques. Is important to also understand the trend of the moment, studying the market in which the restaurant works. Is also imperative the research and acquisition of the best products available in the area. Then comesthe quality of the chef and his management skills controlling not only the kitchen but also the costs and the staff in order to create a team. The quality is my personal philosophy with the use of excellent raw ingredientsand cooking techniques that respect and enhance the ingredients. Generally in Asia I deal with very large rooms that are always open and have different outlets, dealing with the “A la Cart Menu” for the restaurant to thebanquets, the catering and the cooking classes.
A big responsibility working as head chef in one of the world’s most international city… How many people working with you or should we say how many people do you manage?
In the kitchen I work with around 30 staff
In the kitchen what kinds of work do you like best or enjoy more?
I love the research, experimentation, finding new combinations, shapes and textures that can create emotions and interest. The part I like the least, although very important is the bureaucratic paperwork.
Do you find the cooking is right for the Asian demand?
The kitchen and the food in general are the main hobby of Singaporeans andthere are a lot of talks and articles about it. The number of restaurants in Singapore is amazing, the best chefs in the world have opened or are about to open restaurants here, and the “Made in Italy” as well as in other parts of Asia is much loved.
In the kitchen are all the great ideas come from the chef or is it a team work?
In fact the creative part almost always comes from a single subject even if it would be nice to develop a concept involving the staff so to make it more participatory and motivational.
Science and kitchen, how similar? how different?
Almost in all cases cooking involves a chemical transformation. In recent years the machines available are more and moreaccurate and operators are also more and more prepared. We know exactly what happens inside an ingredient when we expose it to certain temperatures. Accurate steps to the point of a single degree, temperature control and ingredients weighted to the gram, all these helps to a good plate of food, but then remains the fundamental human factor, the flavour and the subtle combination that still makes a difference. The kitchen is part science but most of all a craft.
How is your kitchen organised? And what do you use more?
I use mainly Italian ingredients when they are available, as an alternative I select the best products available on the market. The respect for the ingredients is fundamental and I try to make sure that customers can easily recognize the flavours even if sometimes they come in different shapes and textures.
Which dish do you prefer to cook?
My favorite ingredients are prawns from the Mediterranean but as is also foiegras, scallops and many others. Vegetables are always very present in my dishes and almost all of them come from Italy. Ingredients such as Tropea’s red onion and tomatoes that have ripen with the Italian August sun and which have an inimitable aroma and flavour.
A typical day for you?
It’s a job that requires a lot of time. I start at nine when I deal with all the “office work”, then I spendat least 2 hours every day experimenting to create new dishes with new ingredients. I’m always present during the peak hours of service to check the quality and standards. Very large rooms withnumerous staff require constant and intense training which is essential.
Do you feel more traditional or progressive?
The kitchen as well as language and fashion is a world in constant transformation, is a path that starts with the flavours of our culinary heritage, from those flavours of our childhood without ignoring the potential modern technology makes available to us.
I would say that the food that I like could be represented by a tree that has its roots firmly anchored in tradition but with branches reaching towards the new.
What do you think of new technology in the kitchen?
Technology is unreserved; Nitrogen is fun enough to use but only for an ingredient in the menu not for more. Around the molecular there is still a lot of confusion. I prefer that the customer feels reassured by what is in the pot with flavours easily recognizable.
For you the chef should be more scientific or artist or more artisan?
Without doubt artisan, artists compose works for contemplation. We are artisans of tastes and flavours. There are no scientific formulas that are applicable everywhere, anywhere or by anyone, here there are many variables and it becomes imperative for a product to be of quality the hand of the artisan or craftsman.
The ultimate significance of cooking, for you what do you express?
I believe that cooking is a form of communication, through the kitchen we talk about our vision of food and life. Everyone makes the cooking that represents them.
You have taken the Italian cuisine to Singapore, a pioneering action as the messenger for quality and tradition… Was it difficult to teach the local how to eat well? Any anecdote that can be told?
In fact there were already many Italian restaurants here in Singapore some of even good quality. I try to bring the real modern Italian cuisine which sometimes is not the same what people expects like pasta with meat ball or the infamous pasta Alfredo. Making Singapore understand the Italian cuisine is a difficult task that requires tenacity and passion. In a country where Chinese, Malaysians, Indian, Russian, Australian, French and people from all over the world live next to one another with so many different cultures and food issues is an enormous task. Often diners with different origins, religion and culture are sitting in the same table and in these occasions you really need the Italian creativity to find the formula that fits all.
Italian cuisine is loved in Singapore, and there is a lot of curiosity to experiment with ingredients they consider exotics such as asparagus and artichokes.
In regards to the anecdotes, I’ve got thousands I could tell….
From who have you inherited this passion?
At first I followed the footsteps of my eldest brother who’s also a chef firmly anchored in Italy.
At home who cooks?
I cook whenever I can, I like to share with my family what for me is work but also passion.
When you go to a restaurant how to choose it?
I prefer something different and simple, so I choose restaurants that have paper plates but with interesting combinations food wise. I like to try dishes that intrigue me and don’t dislike the simplicity of a well-made dish, I prefer however the Margherita pizza.
Where and when did you start to move between the kitchen hooves?
In 1987 when I was 14 atAronain Lake Maggiore a beautiful hotel was built. I remember I was amazed and fascinated by the ingredients, many of which were very different from those I knew, for example strawberries were huge, I was used to the tiny wild strawberries full of flavour that I used to pick up close to home in Calabria. I lived the first years of my childhood in the Pollino National Park eating cherries straight from the tree, figs and other fruits. The vegetables were those cultivated by my parents with flavours that can’t be found supermarket vegetables. That’s why now I try when possible to purchase vegetables from small businesses that hold in their product quality rather than big numbers.
Today do you find this job tiring although well paid?
It ‘a work which requires a lot of energy, often tiring but I think if done the way I like it turns into a fun job with endless prospects.
What’s the difference between Italian chefs and chefs from America, France and Singapore?
Great chefs have in common great curiosity and the desire to put into the game the passion. I really admire some of my fellow American or Japanese chefs whoknow and love fine Italian cuisine.
Among everyone who do owe the most to?
Some people have certainly changed the way I see my work. I’m fortunate to have been able to worke with Michelin star chefs which have allowed me to understand how beautiful and exciting cooking at high level is.
My brother Angelo is the person who first opened the door of a world that continues to stimulate me and when I still have fun.
Do you teach?
I give continued training to kitchen staff, but I’m also very passionate about cooking classes for non-professionals.
Your best dishes?
The one I have just prepared and the one that I’m about to prepare.
Changing subject: for you the internet is an appropriate place for promoting and manipulating the exchange of innovation? Or do you think that new ideas are always born in solitude under the microscope?
The network is a window of the world, and a way to communicate ideas, concepts and opinions. Ideas sometimes are drawn inspiration from unusual sources. One of my last dishes “olives and apricots” is a dessert that plays with the different textures of these two simple ingredients. The inspiration came after a sleepless night thanks to my 5 month old daughter Laura.
Do you like having a name within the Asian cooking world? Does it bother you? Any anecdote?
The reality is a bit different from what appears in the media. In my everyday life I’m busy managing the problems of the restaurant like any other chef, but I admit that telling about my work makes me happy.
We come to our land of origin. Which are exactly your Calarian origins?
I was born in a small mountain community in the Pollino National Park, in Laino, a tiny village of two thousand inhabitants. It makes me smile thinking that in the building where the restaurant is houses 7000 people.
And the origins of your family?
My family is Calabrian since its first born.
What do you think of Calabria and of Calabrians?
Calabria It is a land of bitter wild beauty. I love the Pollino Park but also the sea and beaches, the “Dino Island” and the wines from Ciró. The excellent cured meats from small tiny producers, for me even better that the famous Spanish “PataNegra”.
Calabrians there are so many important people, from Domenico Dolce from the famous fashion brand “Dolce and Gabbana”, Versace and Stefano Rodotá. Many Calabrians have created immense fortunes in Australia and the USA. Calabrians are stubborn and at times firm in their positions, but if you open your mind to new realities with curiosity you can open up opportunities with unthinkable goals…
Do you think there is an identity, a particular Calabriancharaceristic?
What do you think of Corrado Alvaro’s famous reflection of the Calabria region?: that is the eternal incapability of being able to look at their own vocations?
Calabria has wonderful resources, sometimes it misses the entrepreneurial approach to promote and enhance the natural heritage, especially through tourism, but also with food and wine. Calabrians often states themselves as great entrepreneur when they are away from their land of origin….
In which part are you Calabrian and in which not?
I am very stubborn and tenacity that distinguishes Calabrians has rewarded me often.
Your childhood, memories, regrets.
My childhood memories are related to the Pollino National Park, life in contact with nature something that has remained with me in an indelibly way.
Regrets .. no ..
An idea for the region?
Promote the area to facilitate the tourism companies, producers andassociations to create a “Calabrian” brand of quality, like in the Burgundy or Chianti regions.
Your opinion of the Calabrian restaurant sector and of the culinary production.
Unfortunately I follow the Calabriancatering sector from a distance, in recent years the quality of the products have been growing a lot, and I have met many Calabrians working within the catering business whilst abroad.
What are the reasons that made you leave Calabria and Italy?
Since I was young I always had a great desire to travel and meet new cultures.
For you who are the most important names in the culinary world?
When I was little more than a teenager and was already working in Piedmont I got to know GualtieroMarchesi, was the first Italian chef to receive three Michelin stars, and a teacher with a great personality.
Which are the passions that push you?
I love traveling, photography, outdoor sports like running, swimming, diving, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Activities that I really miss here in Singapore.
In Italy which are your favourite places? An in the world?
In May and June the Island of Dino and the peaks of the Pollino National Park both in Calabria. The Etruscan city of Volterra in Tuscany, the city of Lucca, absolutely one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Around the world, the medina of Marrakesh in Morocco and Glenn Lion in Scotland.