In town to oversee the launch of Il Ristorante’s new Friday brunch at Bvlgari Resort, Dubai, Sophie Voelzing speaks to accomplished chef Niko Romito – the man behind 3-Michelin starred Reale in Italy, and Bvlagri Hotels & Resorts global culinary curator.
Here, he shares his complex yet simple cooking philosophy, the benefits of being a self-taught chef, and why he believes bravery is needed in Italian kitchens worldwide to introduce and educate diners of today on true Italian cuisine.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started out as a chef…
I started out when I was 25 years old, I never went to culinary school. I was studying business and economics when I started working at my father’s restaurant, which was an Italian trattoria in the small mountain village of Abruzzo where I was born. The cuisine served here was a very simple, domestic cuisine. I started studying food and doing lot of experiments and tests in the kitchen, and a few years down the line I started cooking Italian food in a more modern and evolved way. The evolution process started from there.
In 2011, I relocated the restaurant with my father to a historic building previously used as a monastery, and that’s when everything took off.
Your cuisine is often described as simple, when in fact it’s actually quite complex. Tell us about your cooking style…
It’s complex, very complex. I operate using a research process that leads me to simplicity. For me, simplicity is an arrival point, not a starting point.
When tasting simple dishes, I want to be able to taste complexity on the palette that you can only perceive when the raw material has a fundamental role and the respect of the raw material is of upmost priority. By respecting the raw material, a chef respects those eating the food.
My food doesn’t want to show off on the dish, it has a very simple approach but there is a lot of work and complexity that lies behind it – this is something that needs more time to be understood by today’s consumer.
Italian cuisine traditionally is a simple cuisine, and the raw materials and the variety of the products that we have on our territory enable me to carry on this philosophy.
When preparing a dish, what are your main objectives?
The main goal is to achieve an unforgettable taste. I adore working with common ingredients, including everything from an artichoke to a cabbage and a mushroom, to create something complex that makes the diner feel like they’re tasting something for the very first time. The aesthetic of a dish is also very important to me.
How did your partnership with Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts come about and why did you decide the brand was the right fit for you?
Bvlgari had a vision to realise a unique project that didn’t yet exist in the world. All the Bvlgari’s in the world will house this Italian dining concept, and I liked the vision. Bvlgari is a true Italian brand and the values that the brand has are elegant and boast an Italian style and flair that I’m proud to work with.
As a self-taught chef, what methods of self-training did you undertake to reach the Michelin-level of cooking?
I studied a lot by myself, therefore many of the techniques that I use I learnt by myself, which pushed me to fully understand the chemical process behind every technique to know why a specific result is achieved, which enabled me to start producing a very personal cuisine, unique to me.
If I’d gone to culinary school, I may not have delved so deep into my learning as I may of taken it for granted, whereas being self-taught I forced myself to always push to the next level in order to achieve greatness.
By learning by myself and making mistakes, I had to tear things apart to get to the root causes and results of cooking.
What ingredients do you think are most forgotten and under-used in the Italian kitchen, that you’d encourage chefs to start using?
By travelling and tasting the Italian cuisines around the world, I see the same ingredients used everywhere. The problem is that very often a client that goes to these restaurants associates only the most commonly used ingredients to Italian cuisine, and when they don’t find these ingredients in Italian restaurants, they assume that it’s not an authentic Italian restaurant, which is something I face in my restaurants.
Chefs need to be braver and confident to put the more ‘unknown’ ingredients on their menus, and play an important role in educating their diners about these products through story-telling.
For instance, when I first launched in Dubai I was shocked that the majority of my local diners here believed that the burrata was the master of all cheeses from Italy. The burrata is a great product, but there are at least another 30 to 40 dairy products from Italy that are great too, if not better.
Here at Il Ristorante, we really try to offer a wide-range of Italy’s products and not just the most commonly found.
How do you motivate and empower your global teams to continually strive for excellence when you’re hopping from place to place?
It’s not easy, but it’s also not difficult, mainly because the model is unique, so training is the same for all of the chefs worldwide. We have one creative lab that ensures that the information flow to all of our chefs is in unison.
Moving into 2019, are there any other new culinary projects or developments taking place with Bulgari?
Well during this visit, we are here to launch the new Friday brunch at Il Ristorante. But overall, worldwide we are consolidated what we have because last year alone we opened four new Bvlgari properties. There will be some news for sure, but I can’t disclose just yet. Watch this space.
Details: Friday brunch at Il Ristorante runs from 1pm-4pm. To learn more about Il Ristorante, visit the website.