Ahead of his Fairy Tale Dinner at the exclusive Cairo Capital Club this Thursday, we play a little game of word association with the chef to find out a little more about his cooking philosophy and what he has in store...
The Executive Chef of the Concorde El Salam Hotel Cairo is taking over the Cairo Capital Club this Thursday in a dining event entitled The Fairy Tale Dinner. This certainly got us curious: why does this Southern Italian kitchen wizard refer to his menu as magical? What did he do in his life to discover what a fairy tale really is? And how does he bring his Italian charme into his Egyptian kitchen? To find out, we invited him to play a game of word association.
Italy, my country, my love, my everything. It’s where it all started. Italian cuisine is a culture rather than a food. In Italy, we fight about who cooks better: “My mother cooks better than yours,” “No, my mother cooks better than yours!”. When I do cooking classes people sometimes don’t believe me how we cook. People doubt we don’t use butter, or just work with pasta al dente and don’t use cream. Every shape of pasta is its own sauce. You can make the best dishes from nothing in Italian cuisine.
Egyptian Italian Cuisine
I like a lot of the dishes here. Italian food in Egypt is not just pasta and pizza but also the culture. We have the sea, the lake, the mountains and many other places we take our ingredients from that we do not have here. Vegetables in Egypt are excellent but for many others, like the variety of meats, we have to rely on imports. I can’t find the same variety here so the real Italian cuisine is impossible to make here.
I’m from the South and Risotto is not from my area but it has not always been appreciated. In Italy, we made our own pastas, but rice is not Italian. Rice was brought over by Marco Polo and we use it with olive oil and make the best of the grain. That’s what makes a good Risotto.
I don’t like to use butter. I prefer olive oil. I save the butter for desserts, pastries and such things.
What to use for dessert? Everything I just said I don’t use in my dishes: butter and cream! Of course, you also need some creativity.
I always put passion in my dishes. I’m lucky to be doing a job I love unlike many others. You cannot be a chef without passion.
There is always something happening and no time to get bored. When people have fun, we are working. When people are working, we are off. Therefore, the job comes with a weird social structure. I don’t know why we love this job. Yes, we get satisfaction from pleasing clients but our social lives are still a bit strange!
Even more responsibility because next to the cooking there is also the time spent in the office. A restaurant needs a chef, who is more hands on, spending more time in the kitchen. The term “Executive Chef” is the operation. A resort or a hotel with many outlets needs an Executive Chef. It’s more about the organisation: setting the standards and keeping them.
I was a crazy guy! My mother was in shock when I took my first job in a kitchen. She said I would have no life as a chef but I said “So be it, I like it!” I started working at 13-years old, and I asked the chef what he wanted me to do. He told me to wash the pots. When I told him I came to learn how to cook, he merely told me “This is where it starts.” You have to start learning from there. I learned the hard way, coming home with black hands like a mechanic, but it pays off. I got to travel the world, worked with Michelin star chefs, and even now I’m still learning.
I don’t know. I do the job I am paid to do but I don’t want to get lost in talking about my success so I stay modest and don’t talk about it, although I’m usually not shy. I don’t need the spotlight.
Margarita. In Italy, the pizza is the dish itself, it doesn’t need too many toppings.
I like Cairo. I was in South Sinai before I came here and I have still to discover this place after two and a half years. I was here 13 years ago, but then went to Sinai. There is something magical here. I went to Russia briefly but I came back. I think the Ancient Egyptians left something here…
Cairo Capital Club
I was impressed the first time I was there. The view is amazing. You have all of Cairo in front of you, that’s really fantastic. I felt good when I was there and I feel like anything can happen. I will start working there on Wednesday to set everything up, and it will be a great experience.
I wanted to get inspired by our inner child, that’s why we went for the fairy tale theme. The whole menu is set up to play on our inner child, especially the dessert: it’s an explosion of colour with fruits and Oreos. We all want to be children, at least I would, so I can’t wait to create a fairy tale with my own touch that can make my guests forget about their adult worries and enjoy the moment. Carpe Diem, that’s the message I want to convey. All of life is a fairy tale, in the end…
Very important. I can’t give anything away but I want the eyes to love the dish before the stomach can. The first look has to say “Eat me!” like in Alice in Wonderland. The main ingredient needs to be noticed but it needs to be presented beautifully.
I have done dinners for VIPs many times but I'm looking forward to the Cairo Capital Club. Our ingredients are all available locally so we won’t have challenges there but it’s always a challenge to work with a different kitchen than your own. I’m not afraid though. It is going to be alright, and if not, I will make it alright.
I love wine, I grew up with it. When I’m joking, I always say my mother gave me wine instead of milk. It’s a pleasant thing to make you feel good. However, we are aware we are in a country with mostly Muslims so we do not use wine in our dishes, just along with the dishes if diners would like to have some.
The Japanese come to Italy to get their tuna (laughs)! My tuna is cooked at 55 degrees so it will be slightly cooked so it is the perfect mix of raw and ready and tastes the best it can. I will present that tuna at Cairo Capital Club on Thursday.
Use your heart! Cooking is all about passion. My teacher always said “Cook for the girls as you would cook for yourself!” Feel it and use your hands to express it.
Get more information on The Fairy Tale Dinner and reserve by calling 0227948247.